In response to a request by the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) is working toward a solution aimed at saving lives at sea. The goal is to ensure that radio distress signals sent by mariners contain GPS information that will enable search and rescue (SAR) teams to locate vessels quickly and efficiently.
Modern fixed-mount VHF radios are required to be equipped with Digital Selective Calling (DSC). At the push of a button, the DSC function transmits data to all other DSC-equipped radios within range and to SAR authorities, such as the Coast Guard. Those data include a unique number assigned to the radio called a Maritime Mobile Service Identity, or MMSI. A vessel’s MMSI provides the boat’s name, home port, and owner. DSC-equipped radios also have a terminal that allows the owner to connect the unit to an onboard GPS. The problem is that boat owners often neglect to connect their DSC VHF with the GPS and many times do not register their MMSI.