VHF DSC radio: what everyone should know

I just passed my VHF license today so that makes me the latest Internet expert on the subject. Unfortunately, dear reader, I used to be a technical writer. And, this post does tend to sway a little in that direction. There is no use putting lipstick on a pig. Activating a distress call is the subject of today’s post. If you plan to step aboard a boat – anyone’s boat – you should know how to activate a distress call.

Below is a sample VHF radio. If you remember nothing else: respect the red Distress button.


Press the red Distress button only if you perceive grave, imminent danger to a person on your boat or to your vessel. Grave danger includes things like catastrophic injuries, fires and sinking.

To activate a Distress call:

  1. Press and hold the red Distress button for several seconds.
  2. A distress call is sent to the coastguard and most boats within range.
    A distress call relays your vessels unique number (called an MMSI), and your position via GPS.
  3. The distress call is automatically resent at preset intervals until it is acknowledged.


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