Should dealers help customers with MMSI?

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I went fishing offshore on a friend’s boat recently. While we scanned his marine radio for some fishing “chatter,” I asked him if he had gotten his MMSI? “What’s that?” he responded. So I asked him what happens if he pushes the red distress button on his radio? “That automatically sends out a Mayday call to the Coast Guard,” he answered. “Not exactly,” I countered.

The incident highlighted for me why the Coast Guard and other boating safety organizations are currently emphasizing that boaters should get their MMSI number as well as connect their VHF radios to a GPS whenever possible. It also occurs to me this is a subject dealers, particularly along the coasts and Great Lakes, can use to provide an extra measure of customer contact and service.

If you’re not really familiar with this, since 1999 all VHF fixed-mounted radios dealers or manufacturers install are equipped with Digital Selective Calling and a single red emergency transmission button. In a nutshell, if the red button is activated, a distress call is sent out. But, without the radio being correctly programmed with a unique code called a Maritime Mobile Service Identity, this modern distress system cannot be effective.

The MMSI is a simply a series of nine numbers which are sent digitally from the radio when the distress button is pushed. Each MMSI is unique to only one vessel and it registers that boat’s information in the Coast Guard’s national distress database for emergency situations. Best of all, if the radio is linked to a GPS unit on board, the distress call will include that vessel’s exact lat/long position. Should the skipper become incapacitated, the radio will continue sending the Mayday and position. Moreover, the distress call and location will be seen on other DSC-equipped vessels. For example, all commercial vessels are required to monitor the DSC-exclusive channel (ch 70) and they can relay information to the Coast Guard if needed.

Who wouldn’t want their customers to have such an advantage? Think about this – in the unlikely event of an emergency, this will take the “search” out of “search and rescue!”
Getting an MMSI is free and simple. BoatUS, Sea Tow and the United States Power Squadrons have been certified by the FCC and the Coast Guard to obtain and register MMSI numbers. Log onto or or and simply follow their instructions.

Right now the Coast Guard is frequently receiving distress calls without MMSIs. It leaves the Coast Guard with little to go on. Moreover, estimates are only 10 percent of DSC radios are also connected to the boat’s GPS. Improving this can literally save time and lives.

So, here’s a suggested customer service idea. Have an MMSI Day(s) at your dealership. Invite all customers to come in and together you will obtain their MMSI number. Then, you’ll help them program their number into their radio – it must be correctly programmed. And, finally, you’ll check to determine the radio is linked to their GPS. All free, of course. It’s a great way to stay connected with customers and to show your continued interest in their boating success.

The National Boating Federation has produced an excellent tri-fold brochure that you could provide to all customers ahead of the event. NBF gives you permission to reprint and freely distribute the brochure. You can find it at:


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