NMEA works on improving distress-signal communication

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In response to a Coast Guard request, the National Marine Electronics Association is working toward a solution aimed at saving lives at sea.

The goal, according to the association, is to ensure that radio distress signals sent by mariners contain GPS information that will enable search-and-rescue teams to locate vessels quickly and efficiently.

Modern fixed-mount VHF radios are required to be equipped with Digital Selective Calling. At the push of a button, the DSC function transmits data to all other DSC-equipped radios within range and to search-and-rescue authorities such as the Coast Guard.

The problem is that boat owners often neglect to connect their DSC VHF with the GPS and many times do not register their Maritime Mobile Service Identity number.

“NMEA will do everything we can to help solve these issues as part of our continuing joint effort with the Coast Guard and the Federal Communications Commission to improve safety at sea,” NMEA president David Hayden said in a statement.

“The NMEA 0183 Standard Committee is already working on new specifications, and we will encourage our manufacturer and dealer members to educate the boating consumer about the need to link their DSC radios with a GPS and to register their MMSI numbers,” he added. “But at the end of the day we can only recommend that boaters take these actions. We can’t mandate them. That job should be a collaborative effort between the Coast Guard and the FCC.”

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3 comments on “NMEA works on improving distress-signal communication

  1. Chris Foster

    One immediate step would be to have VHF radios all manufactured with built in GPS that would transmit the coordinates automatically. It would remove one step in the process. Boaters would not have to connect seperate GPS units to their radios and it would work for boaters who did not have seperate GPS units. It’s nice to have all the information that goes along with an MMSI # but getting mariners to sign up for one seems to be an issue. The real safety point of DSC radios is to locate the boater in need quickly in times of distress. When they are located the rest of the MMSI # info becomes readily apparent.

  2. Henry D

    The marine electronics industry needs to standardize the connection process.  Either with a standard plug on the back of the radio and a standard cable from the GPS/Plotter or the pigtail on the GPS and Radio have matching plugs.  If the personal computer industry is an example – when everyone when to standard plugs, colors and now the USB plug, making the equipment work together is much easier for everyone.
    As far as an MMSI # – the radio should have a pre-recorded blurb each time you turn the unit on, until an MMSI is entered.  When a retailer sells the radio, the retailer should register  the user/radio at that time for an MMSI unless the purchaser elects to opt-out because they alreay have an MMSI.

  3. YachtingEnterprises

    I don’t understand why the industry communication leaders like ICOM, Standard, and Uniden have yet to get on board with the NMEA 2000 standard which offers a standard plug for interfacing marine electronics.
    NMEA 2000 capable GPS receivers and VHF radios  have standard plugs and they are simpler, therefore less expensive to install. Garmin Lowrance, and Simrad offer reasonably priced NMEA 2000 compatible radios. If you have a GPS that isn’t NMEA 2000 compatible, you can get a reasonably priced 0183 to 2000 converter and an NMEA2000 capable radio for @ $400.
    While a built in GPS with every VHF could be a good solution for a system planned from scratch, it may not be pratical for all applications. Not all VHF radios are mounted where they can receive GPS signals and would require an additional antenna, leading to more expensive radios and installations.  This is why we have the NMEA 2000 standard which allows all devices on the network share data.  As more boat owners update their electronics it won’t be necessary to make the old 0183 connections.
    Many installers insist that the radios be registered. I have always offered to register MMSI info for my customers but I estimate that only @ 20% actually take me up on my offer. I think it will take some form of incentive, or regulation to get boaters to register their radios.

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