It could happen to you. Any boater could face a sudden Mayday situation caused by a fire, collision, capsize, sinking boat or medical emergency. If this happens, it’s good to know that the Coast Guard and other Search and Rescue responders are equipped with Rescue 21 technology, a new advanced radio and communications system that, as of 2011, covered 38,056 miles of coastline in the Continental United States.
Just push and hold down the red DISTRESS button on your VHF radio, and it sends an automated digital distress message to the Coast Guard and all other DSC radio-equipped vessels. Rescuers instantly know who you are, where you are (using GPS coordinates), the name of your boat and the phone numbers of your emergency contacts.
Mariners are not taking two quick actions to make their radios work properly as the amazing safety beacons they are, thanks to Digital Selective Calling and Rescue 21:
This is an epidemic problem, as ninety percent of boaters who call the Coast Guard for emergency help have not both registered and interconnected their VHF radios, meaning that our 21st Century safety network will not work.
According to Coast Guard Rear Admiral R.E. Day, “Of the roughly 100 digital selective calling distress alerts we are now receiving each month, approximately nine out of 10 do not have position information (i.e. do not have a GPS navigation receiver interconnected to their DSC-equipped VHF radio), and approximately six out of 10 have not registered their MMSI. Despite the promises DSC technology offers in significantly reducing the alerting and search time for mariners in distress, there’s little a Coast Guard watchstander can do after receiving a distress alert with no position information, using an unregistered MMSI, and having no follow-up voice communications.”
The Coast Guard must respond to about 60,000 emergency calls each year (while saving nearly 5,000 lives annually) using limited resources. Unfortunately, search and rescue responses are often suspended when rescuers cannot establish further communication with the distressed boater, have no position information or bearings for the vessel, and have no other means of contact.