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VHF, DSC and MMSI

 
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hjkarten
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Joined: 21 Jul 2005
Posts: 642
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 8:48 am    Post subject: VHF, DSC and MMSI Reply with quote

I wonder about other people's perspectives on MMSI, DSC, and the claims of its value.
I faithfully followed directions when we bought our VHF several years ago, and registered it through BOAT/US to obtain an MMSI number. I hooked up my VHF to the GPS, so that I would automatically broadcast my LAT/LONG in the event of an emergency distress call.
I tried to understand the DSC (Digital Signal Calling??), and sort of learned that it would allow others who knew my MMSI to directly call me on the VHF. The literature claims that it thus provides the equivalent of direct calling over VHF. But two problems emerged immediately. You had to know the specific MMSI of the person you wanted to call, and entering that MMSI was a really clumsy and laborious process. Similarly, your friends had to know your specific MMSI.

It turns out that there is no quick and simple way to punch in the MMSI number of the person you want to call. The MMSI number is supposed to be associated with your particular boat, and should be affiliated with all your communication gear, including SSB, VHF and EPIRB.

OK - but then I went to the USCG center where I had registered my EPIRB. On that page, there is a space for the MMSI. I assumed that by registering with BOAT/US it would automatically transfer that information to the USCG. Nope! The USCG had the info on my EPIRB, vessel description, nearest kin for contact, etc. But no MMSI.

Hmm! The situation gets worse.
The new AIS (Automatic Identification System) is terrific. It shows all vessels over 300 tons, name, COG, speed, and MMSI. Now you would think that this is finally some progress and will be of importance in safety and navigation. You assume that if the software recognizes all that, and you are in danger of being run over by a friendly freighter on a dark, foggy night, you would like to directly call them on their MMSI. They are no longer required to monitor Channel 16, (or at least many of them fail to do so, in expectation that the rules will soon no longer require that), but they are supposed to respond to a call to their MMSI over the VHF.

In principle, if you have a DSC/MMSI capable VHF, and your AIS spots a potentially troublesome vessel, you could just push a button and - Voila - you are speaking with the helmsman on that 1,000 foot freighter who seems to be changing course every time you do, in oder to chew you up for a late night snack.

Sorry - it ain't working that way.
1) The USCG claims that they don't have the equipment to detect the Lat/Long info your VHF automatically transmits.
2) The DSC/MMSI calling can only be used to call a limited number of other vessels, and they have to previously be entered into the "PhoneBook" of the VHF. There is no keyboard that allows you to punch in the 10 or 12 digit number to call that friendly freighter.
3) All those pricey and cute new chartplotters that are supposed to display the location of someone with a DSC who calls you doesn't work except in one or two of the very latest (and most expensive) VHF/Chartplotter combinations.
4) The nice people at West Marine, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and elsewhere, don't really understand how the system works, and repeat how "someday it will be great".

I also find it distressing that the VHF manufacturers don't add a GPS chip to all their units. My bloody cell phone has one (courtesy of Homeland Security who want to know where we are every moment of the day), and only adds a few bucks to the cost of the unit. Most of the cost of the typical GPS is in the packaging, LCD screens, fancy software, etc.
I am frequently astounded by the number of Maydays we hear, and the USCG is patiently trying to ask the frightened skipper for his/her location. They have a VHF, but sometimes don't have a GPS, or if they do, they look at the chart mode, and have no idea what a Lat/Long reading might be. If the VHF automatically transmitted that info, there might be fewer drownings and lost vessels.
enuff of this rant...
regards,
Harvey
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Harvey J. Karten
Tayana 37
Hull #84
Del Mar, CA 92014
EMail: hjkarten@ucsd.edu
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Wayne Strausbaugh
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Joined: 27 Jul 2005
Posts: 136
Location: New Bern, NC

PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice post, Harvey! You have given us a real-world look at a complicated subject. To listen to the hype, it is all a wonderful integrated system. In reality, it is false security - very false security.

You should consider submitting your post to Ocean Navigator, Cruising World, or Sail. People need to know this. Or maybe Boat U.S. or the Coast Guard need to know this. The responsible agencies don't seem to have a handle on this technology. Once again, nice job!
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Wayne Strausbaugh
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hjkarten
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Joined: 21 Jul 2005
Posts: 642
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Wayne,
The problem is that for much of the time, I figured that I was just too dumb to understand it all, and that if I was a bit smarter it would all make sense. It was when I started asking the people at West Marine and the Coast Guard Auxiliary to explain things, and they didn't understand the questions, much less know the answers, that I finally realized that I wasn't the only dummy on the pier. I then called the Tech people at Standard Horizon and asked them exactly how was I supposed to dial the MMSI numbers - "Huh!? Oh, you can't do that.", and then a series of questions and similar answers followed. I then contacted the USCG, and NASA to find out how to get a digital version of the weather info, that things really didn't make any sense. But as best as I could determine, the fault didn't lie with them, but it was a matter of a "budgetary"(i.e., political) decision.

In all fairness, I think that AIS system is fabulous, and a major addition to the use of radar and safety at sea.
Please keep in mind that I have a nearly religious respect for the USCG, and have long been very proud of the fact that I was a career officer in the Coast Guard until I abruptly left to take a job at a university. These guys are really great, and amazing how they are willing to risk their lives to save the life of some people who won't take the trouble to learn the simplest operation of their own safety gear. They are often stuck trying to make the best of the stingy budgets that congress and the White House gives them each year. So I don't mean to blame them at all. Sorry if my note ever left that impression. I may have my private opinion of where I think the fault lies, but be sure that I don't think it lies with the Coasties.

regards,
Harvey
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Harvey J. Karten
Tayana 37
Hull #84
Del Mar, CA 92014
EMail: hjkarten@ucsd.edu
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Coleman Blake



Joined: 16 Nov 2005
Posts: 97

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 7:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Harvey,

I read somewhere that large vessels are required to have a loud alarm hooked to their DSC VHF (also required). The article stated that you could use the "All Ships" option to call all ships within range and set off the alarms.

This would, at least, get their attention. It could also improve their aim.

Coleman Blake
Traveler
T-37 #328
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hjkarten
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Joined: 21 Jul 2005
Posts: 642
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Coleman,
Two problems:
1) "The mandatory equipped vessels however, discontinued monitoring MF frequency 2182 kHz on February 1st, 1999, and are only obligated to monitor VHF channel 16 until February 1st, 2005. The GMDSS equipment on these vessels will instead be monitoring for digital data on VHF channel 70 and MF frequency 2187.5. This may present problems for non-GMDSS equipmed recreational vessels attempting voice communications with mandatory GMDSS equipped vessels." A quick glance at the calendar confirmed the fact that Feb. 1 2005 has long passed.

2) There have been episodes where even when the DSC was used, nobody was on the bridge of a major freighter in the area of the Taiwan straits.

Note that the phrase "monitoring for digital data on VHF channel 70" means that you have to contact them via an MMSI "direct dial", if I even vaguely understand the protocol correctly. (No guarantee of that, since very few people seem to understand how this is actually working.)

Fortunately, the U.S. Navy, cruise ships, tankers, freighters, etc., in the San Diego area rely heavily on Channel 16 for communication and transmitting warnings to nearby vessels that about to cross their pathway. We are being pushed from a system that "sort-of" work, to an idealized one that doesn't work at all for most of us. This is called technological progress.
Y'r 'umble Luddite,
Harvey
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Harvey J. Karten
Tayana 37
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EMail: hjkarten@ucsd.edu
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John Kalpus



Joined: 28 Nov 2005
Posts: 179
Location: San Diego, CA

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:05 am    Post subject: VHF, DSC and MMSI Reply with quote

In a message dated 10/27/2006 8:02:17 AM Alaskan Daylight Time, hjkarten@ucsd.edu writes:
Quote:
A quick glance at the calendar confirmed the fact that Feb. 1 2005 has long passed.


Hey Harvey, Group....
Just curious - where are you getting this information?
FYI, up here in the Frozen North, AKA Fairbanks, AK, it's winter!
It'll be really, really good to get back to the santa anas and fires of SoCal this evening. (-;
 
Regards ... jk
John Kalpus
Prudence
San Diego
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Coleman Blake



Joined: 16 Nov 2005
Posts: 97

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 12:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought the "All Ships" call was some sort of broadcast that would help contacting the tanker that was trying to flatten you. I hope it doesn't mean "All Ships" in your VHF's DSC directory.

I just checked the owner's manuals for the Raymarine 54 and 240 and ICOM 422 and 302. Entering an MMSI is more cumbersome than programming a VCR. I also found that the Raymarine radios can transmit "Urgency" and "Safety" "All Ships" messages while the ICOM radios can only transmit "Routine" "All Ships" messages.

If a radio can only support one mode of operation, shouldn't it be Urgency or Safety rather than Routine?

This seems to confirm that no one knows what to do with DSC.

Coleman.
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smileyj



Joined: 22 Jul 2005
Posts: 59

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 1:01 pm    Post subject: VHF, DSC and MMSI Reply with quote

To further complicate things, if you obtained your MMSI number through Boat US, it is only usable for vessels in U.S. waters. If you plan to sail in international or foreign waters, you must obtain your MMSI from the U.S. Coast Guard. Apparently, Boat US maintains a separate list of MMSI numbers which are only relayed to the Coast Guard if a distress call is heard. See: http://www.boatus.com/mmsi/about.htm  and http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/marcomms/gmdss/mmsi.htm
 
Jim Smiley
Quote:
 
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hjkarten
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Joined: 21 Jul 2005
Posts: 642
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Jim,
Many thanks for the clarification. I was puzzled when I found my MMSI listed on Boat/US, but not with the Coast Guard. This was true even though my EPIRB is registered with the Coast Guard.

I then went through many pages on the USCG website, trying to figure out how to transfer my MMSI from Boat/US to the USCG.
Simple answer: It cannot be done. The rules of the USCG and FCC specifically state that the MMSI is not transferable. You have to get a new MMSI.

This is really a cute twist, since your VHF (and probably your SSB), allows you to only enter your MMSI two times. If you don't do it correctly - and it is a complicated series of steps - you are then locked out, and the unit has to be sent back to the factory to reset it so that you can now struggle twice more to enter your new MMSI! Does this mean sending my SSB back to Japan?

Having a properly assigned and encoded MMSI is critical as you require an FCC and USCG assigned MMSI if you want to use you Marine HF SSB, or VHF in international waters. This includes Mexico and Canada.

VHF requires registration if you plan to use it outside U.S.

Fee is $85 - good for ten years.

However, if you are going out of the U.S., your vessel should also be documented. You cannot/should not fill out Form 605 (for the Marine License for SSB, VHF, DSC, etc.) until you first complete the documentation procedure.

Whew! Of course the FCC application has the consoling bit of information that states that "Filling out this form should require less than 0.44 Hours."
Indeed! That hollow truth matches "I'm from the IRS, and I'm here to help you."
regards,
Harvey
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Harvey J. Karten
Tayana 37
Hull #84
Del Mar, CA 92014
EMail: hjkarten@ucsd.edu
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MichaelKQ



Joined: 10 Nov 2005
Posts: 60
Location: Minnetonka MN; Annapolis, MD

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 11:31 pm    Post subject: VHF, DSC and MMSI Reply with quote

Harvey and All:
 
Regarding “Whew! Of course the FCC application has the consoling bit of information that states that "Filling out this form should require less than 0.44 Hours."  
 
Cost of VHF; $400
Cost of SSB and Install; $1200
Cost of filing out FCC app; .44 hours
 
Cost TOG forum; Priceless
 
 
Michael Quirk
s/v Vacilando T37, Hull 242
Annapolis, MD
(612) 685-2282 Cell
MQuirk@HarbingerIndustries.com
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StolenChild



Joined: 22 Aug 2006
Posts: 25
Location: Kansas City

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 10:42 am    Post subject: Re: VHF, DSC and MMSI Reply with quote

There is a good article about MMSI at the following website:

http://www.marinecomputer.com/articles/mmsi/mmsi.html
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Patrick Harrington
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jhambly



Joined: 04 Aug 2005
Posts: 57
Location: New Jersey

PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I presume that a number of you received this mail from Boat US. Having been through the re-registration process with the FCC when obtaining a ships license, I would like to know Boat US' definition of the word "glitch".
James
T37 #451 Esperanza, NJ

October 18, 2007

Dear BoatUS MMSI Registrant,

Did you know that you have to change your MMSI number if you want to cruise internationally?

Due to a glitch in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensing system, your MMSI issued by BoatUS is seen as "invalid" when you choose later to obtain an FCC radio license. BoatUS is trying to fix this problem. In response to a recent FCC Public Notice, we are writing to ask you to tell the FCC to fix their system so boaters can avoid this unneeded inconvenience and cost. Comments are due by November 13, 2007.

Background:
Even though the MMSI VHF radio numbers issued by BoatUS come from the FCC, the FCC's radio licensing system does not accept our MMSI numbers (or those issued by any other private entity) back into their database. This problem occurs when a boater who obtained a number from BoatUS, intended for those boating only on U.S. waters and not needing a license, later decides to cruise to foreign ports and applies for an FCC Ship Station License, as currently required. The BoatUS MMSI numbers are rejected by the FCC, forcing the boater to (1) obtain a new MMSI number from the FCC and (2) go to the trouble and expense of getting their DSC radio reprogrammed with the new number. This often requires sending the radio back to the manufacturer or a service agency with fees.

In May, a petition was filed with the FCC to correct this problem by the National GMDSS Implementation Task Force, of which BoatUS is a member.

Current Situation:
The FCC just released a Public Notice on this petition seeking comments from vessel operators on the inconvenience and cost of embedding new MMSI numbers in DSC VHF marine radios. This notice outlines the request, as well as the comment period which ends 11/13/07.

Click here to read the notice: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-07-4212A1.doc

BoatUS Stance:
BoatUS supports streamlining this system, so that boat operators can easily continue to use their MMSI number when they decide to travel internationally, and privately issued numbers are as trouble-free as those issued by the FCC.

What You Can Do:
Please let the FCC know:

That you want this problem fixed so that privately issued MMSI numbers are "portable," the same policy granted to cell phone users.

If you have had your own experience trying to use your MMSI number when applying for an FCC license, please include details, especially if there were costs involved in re-programming your radio.

As more people retire and decide to go cruising, this problem is very likely to get worse. The time to correct it is now.

The integrity of the U.S. Coast Guard's search and rescue system depends upon boaters properly registering their radios. Any unnecessary problems in doing so will deter people from registering or obtaining a license from the FCC.

You can send your comments via email, using the FCC's designated form. Send an e-mail to ecfs@FCC.gov with the words "get form" in the message. A reply e-mail with form and instructions will be sent to you. Remember that comments are due no later than 11/13/07. When you write, refer to the docket number: WT 07-230. All comments will be available for public inspection.

Please share this information with your cruising friends and clubs. We look forward to working together to make boating safer and to streamline compliance with government regulations.

Sincerely,
Margaret Podlich - BoatUS Government Affairs
Elaine Dickinson - BoatUS and member of GMDSS Task Force
GovtAffairs@BoatUS.com
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