That red button on the DSC

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The SDC's distress button or red button, perhaps will be; soon regulated, we field our knowledge to express our opinion.

Some news push us to express our opinion

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On February 4, 2017, Sole 24 Ore released the news that the Harbour Offices would ask the Government to provide for legislation to regularize the use of the SDC on recreational craft.

The press and rumours on the subject are not clear, but it would seem that in this request there is also the adoption of the GMDSS regime (or part of it) for boats sailing over 30 miles. Although the news has been published by authoritative sources, the details that are reported are confused and we understand the comments of some newspapers in our industry that consider them even "absurd".

However, we disagree with the tone expressed by some newspapers that criticize the work of the Government or Ministries. There is nothing effective on which to base complaints and also within these bodies there are staff who try to do their best work (even behind multiple difficulties), they deserve the most encouragement and certainly not of the offenses. For those who do not do their job well, suggestions or offenses bounce back ...

In any case, we would like to thank the press for raising awareness from the outset. Just by taking your attention now, you can suggest to whom you will have to make a decision. However, we would like to point out that the subject is much more complex than it has been dealt with in other reports.

Since the GMDSS topic is unclear, we will not discuss it in this article and we will focus on the use of the SDC, because we believe that in this area some news will certainly come.

Marine Pan Service boasts a knowledge of DSC technology, offers an online glossary that is a reference for Italian yachtsmen and operators. In addition, it should have a better understanding of the market and the needs of yachtsmen than the authorities. We therefore feel responsible for offering our opinion, which the authorities, we believe, will be pleased to read.

Introduction to DSC technology

Pressing the red distress button on the DSC does not require you to have any specific knowledge, except to know that this button will presumably activate the rescue.

However, it must be clear that the call via red button is to be made only in real emergency situations, where the effects there is a risk to human life, in other cases of danger is provided for an individual call category "routine".

On a correctly installed VHF/DSC, by pressing the distress button of the DSC, the coast guard will receive the distress signal with the geographical coordinates and the MMSI through which you have the opportunity to find a lot of information about the boat and the owner.

When the distress signal is received, the coastal station will decide on the channel on which to continue the communication on the phone and will select it digitally. The vessel's VHF/DSC will receive the ACK (acknowledgement of receipt) and automatically select the channel chosen by the coast guard, so the two entities will be on exactly the same channel and can communicate without hindrance. However, this usually happens without creating traffic on channel 16.

The only attention that the yachtsman will have to pay is to wait patiently for the ACK, it can take several seconds before receiving it and the user will not have to take further action, not to compromise the procedure. If the ACK is not received, after a time that varies according to the model (60 seconds on average) the device automatically leaves the waiting position and it will be possible to press the red button again. When the ACK is received, the display shows a clear message and the phase of selection of the new channel decided by the Coast Guard, in addition the speaker normally emits an acoustic signal.

To ask for help with the distress button of the DSC is much easier (as well as immediate), compared to the procedure through channel 16. To be able to select channel 16, you must press a button on the device, then you must press the PTT button on the microphone and then clearly scan the distress message. Imagine the difficulty in pronouncing or finding the geographical coordinates, if the unfortunate person is in panic.

A totally different situation for other functionalities included in the protocols of the DSC class "D", where the processes are much more complex, is an example the "mayday relay". It is very unlikely that a dispatcher, even with an SRC, LRC, ROC or GOC certificate, will be able to provide a mayday relay with ease. A person who does not work professionally must be kept away from these procedures, would represent only the weak link in the chain that surrounds these security protocols.

A final observation concerns the behaviour of other nations with regard to this subject. Particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, the MMSI code is released more freely and if there is a real risk to human life, it is possible to commit radio frequencies, even if not authorized (safety first!). So in these countries it is possible to use the red button, without examination and without there having been any specific change to the regulations.

Our idea for the use of the SDC by the yachtsman

As described in the introduction, the yachtsman should be able to use the distress button of the DSC and for completeness should also be authorized for individual calls category routines. At the same time it is suggested that it is kept away from other features, perhaps by self-declaration when applying for the RTF license (exactly as already done today for other limitations of use).

As described in the introduction, pressing the red button is much simpler than the procedure that is carried out through channel 16. The current legislation requires the yachtsman the RTF License and the RTF Certificate, only! For a transition to a system that is easier to use and more effective, we see no reason to impose any further bureaucratic procedure, let alone examination.

While we do not believe it is correct, to make now the DSC a mandatory endowment, because we are waiting for decisions on the ITU appendix 18. This could force the yachtsman who is not equipped with VHF with DSC, to provide for the purchase of a new VHF/DSC twice in a row.

As a last note, but dissociated from the reasoning on the red button, we realize that there are many yachtsmen who make an incorrect use of the VHF equipment, even using it for private communications. So if there really is no other way to stop these bad habits, you can understand the need for the yachtsman to be tested, but should be provided for a digital examination and not move people, roles, costs etc..