Free Service Provides Boaters With MMSI Number

Free registrations of Digital Selective Calling (DSC) VHF marine radios by BoatU.S., in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Coast Guard, have surpassed the 25,000 mark, the association announced today.  BoatU.S. offers recreational boaters free registration of DSC VHF radios, which includes providing a unique Mobile Maritime Service Identity (MMSI) number to be encoded into the radio.

VHF radios with the Digital Selective Calling feature allow a boater to transmit a call directly to another DSC radio, similar to one cell phone’s calling another.  However, its greatest promise lies with a "mayday" feature that will, in the future, also allow anyone aboard a vessel to send a distress call that will hail all nearby vessels with automatically-included vessel identity and location information — all with the touch of one button.

"DSC radios will eventually take the 'search' out of search and rescue," said Elaine Dickinson, assistant vice president of BoatU.S. Government Affairs. "Within the next few years, the Coast Guard will begin responding to DSC distress calls, and that's why boat owners need to have their radios registered and MMSI numbers properly programmed into the radio."

In 2001, BoatU.S. became the first organization to offer a DSC VHF registration program that saved boat owners from having to pay for a costly FCC radio license. Prior to the BoatU.S. registration program, getting an FCC license was the only way to obtain an MMSI number.

BoatU.S. downloads its registration information to the Coast Guard's growing search-and-rescue database of DSC-equipped vessels on a weekly basis. The Coast Guard's Rescue-21 distress communications system that ties in to the DSC mayday function is expected to become operational within the next few years. 

However, commercial vessels and many TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist on-the-water assistance providers, as well as many DSC VHF-equipped recreational boats, already monitor VHF channel 70, which is reserved for DSC transmissions.  In the interim, the Coast Guard advises that boaters continue to use Channel 16 for emergency communications.

With prices now below the $200 threshold, it's estimated that over half of all new VHF marine radios sold today are DSC capable. The BoatU.S. MMSI program is only for recreational boats that operate on U.S. waters; boats that travel internationally or are otherwise required to have an FCC ship station license must request the nine-digit MMSI number from the FCC.