I take your point about the State run HF stations with voice watch. These were implemented following the introduction
of GMDSS for big ships, and the subsequent closure of the main Coast Stations around Australia, which had been financed by the income
from HF/SSB telephone interconnect.
Unfortunately, as an Australian yacht owner, I can tell you the actual performance of the state run services has been largely ineffective and unreliable. Perhaps part of the problem is the same issue that DSC is designed to overcome; listening constantly to the background noise
and irelevent calls on the marine emergency frequencies is a big ask. People tend to turn down the volume or set the squelch threshold too high - so actual MAYDAY and PAN-PAN calls are not heard.
I expect this is part of the reason why the Australian Communications Authority requires all commercial small-craft to fit as minimum something like an ICOM
M801 GMDSS (DSC and electrical
isolation in addition to the fanless body) and new recreational vessel installaions to be minimum ICOM 801A (fanless body and DSC) radios. Too many reports of no response from the state run stations supposedly monitoring for voice emergency calls.
It could be the working arrangement too. For example the remote
WA scanning radio was linked by landline to a Police Station in Perth. I expect the Police have other more immediate and pressing matters than to listen to a spluttering HF radio
, and probably turn down the volume. In Sydney
, the single
scanning radio was located in the port control comms tower, in the centre of Sydney, next to the Harbour Bridge. Just too much electrical
to hear distant emergency calls, and being busy managing commercial traffic in the harbour, they probably also turned down the volume.
And for the volunteer groups, they are presently under forced amalgamation and somewhat dysfunctional, with a principal focus on local boats and VHF
operations. They also have only limited coverage, with the best coverage along the NSW and QLD coasts. Beyond there, vast sections of the Australian coast simply have no people around, so there cannot be volunteer groups monitoring VHF, MF or 27meg frequencies.
When Derek and Janine provided the Penta
Comstat voice service
for recreational vessels, their service covered the entire Australian coast and the South Pacific
with a reliable presence, recording all emergency communications,broadcasting weather
information, taking position reports etc. They had a legal
responsibility to provide the emergency service. They even provided regular daily HF/SSB voice contact for Kay Cottee throughout her entire journey to be the first worman to sail solo, non-stop, around the world. But since Penta
closed, there is a significant gap.
Prior to the advent of GMDSS for ships over 300 tonnes, there were major Coast Radio Stations at Sydney, Perth and Darwin. These were financed by the income
from telephone interconnects, principally from merchant ships and cruise
ships. But these coast stations would also respond to calls from recreational vessels and they maintained 24/7 voice monitoring of all the official marine emergency voice frequencies, for everyone - commercial and recreation - as part of their legal
obligation. But once the larger commercial vessels were forced to fit big dish satellite
comms as part of the new GMDSS system, all their phone
traffic shifted to the satellite
link and the coast stations were closed due to lack of money
Radio had a similar function, but from experience, they never responded to calls from recreational vessels. Singapore
Radio also closed when they lost
their telephone interconnect income.
Monitoring the HF/SSB emergency frequencies for MAYDAY and PAN-PAN calls in a yacht 24/7 is not something I've encountered often in many years of cruising and racing
. The noise is just too pesky and incompatible with many of the reasons we go to sea to enjoy our recreation. If you ask yachts to do it, it's almost inevitable the volume will be turned down, and therefore no monitoring actually occurs.
But every yacht can maintain a DSC watch with no intrusive imposition on their time at sea, or when relaxing in an anchorage. The DSC watch includes muting of the radio speaker, so there is no pesky background noise from the speaker. When a DSC alert is received the speaker opens and the radio goes into an alarm
state. It really is a major improvement and enables every yacht to be part of the official marine safety network. Every yacht with an approved marine HF/SSB radio - with DSC - can be listening for emergency calls from other vessels in distress, or from MRCCs.
No countries in SE Asia maintian a voice watch on the marine emergency frequencies. They only maintain a DSC watch. This is part of an inevitable worldwide changeover.
Taupo Radio (New Zealand) still provides voice monitoring of the 2 to 16 Meg marine emergency voice frequencies, Honiara (Solomons) and Tahiti
monitor SOME of the marine emergency frequencies. As I mentioned previously, PNG still does, but only until their DSC radios arrive. Guam
Coast Guard maintains a DSC watch and a limited voice watch on 2 emergency frequencies at certain times of day. Seychelles
and Mauritius still maintian a voice watch on certain frequenceis at certain periods of day. But it's inevitable this will change solely to a DSC watch, just as it has elsewhere.
Departing North America for a lengthy circumnavigation
expecting to rely solely on voice calls for emergency communications 24/7 is not practical. The services simply are no longer there.
I'm certainly aware that HAM operators have been instrumental in facilitating assistance to yachts - HAM and non HAM - in numerous emergency situations. I also know that MRCC Australia contacts known HAM operators to help locate "missing" boats.
I'm also aware that HAMs who operate the nets go on vacation
, or change jobs and leave the area, or change their phone
number or email
address so MRCC Australia cannot find them, or sell their equipment (eg: the Sydney, Darwin and Perth WinLink stations). I think it's hard to expect that a volunteer HAM can guarantee to maintain a 24/7 listening watch for emergency calls - MAYDAY and PAN-PAN - on the official marine emergency frequencies. (I expect they would need a marine radio and to license
a Limited Coast Station to do so.) Nor accept legal responsibility for their service; like the NZ contractor which provides AMSA's DSC based 24/7 emergency service.
Fitting a proper marine HF/SSB with DSC now allows cruisers to take advantage of the existing - professionally operated - worldwide network of 24/7 MRCC stations. These stations are required to maintain a dependable DSC service, and they are legally accountable for their service.
Plus there are the tens of thousands of commercial vessels out there which are required by their marine survey regulations
to monitor for DSC alerts, 24/7. And progressively, hundreds of thousands of recreational vessels also monitoring for DSC calls 24/7. The USA is behind in this DSC development for recreational vessels, but such developments which have already occurred in recreational vessels in other part of the world are available for North American cruisers to utilise - for most of their circumnavigation
- if they have equipped their boat with a DSC HF/SSB radio. That's really a very big emergency communications advantage for cruisers, and very cheap insurance
, just for the price
of a proper marine HF/SSB radio with DSC.
Regarding problems I've seen here with North American boats:
1. Yachts with HAM radios sold to unsuspecting buyers by the previous - licensed HAM - owner. The new owner does not have a HAM license
, is therefore not authorised to operate the radio, and has very limited knowlege how to successfully operate the radio.
2. Licensed HAMS with a HAM radio but with limited knowlege of the marine HF/SSB radio service, and unable to program in marine frequencies into their - legal, unmodified - HAM radio. They become a real problem in rally groups, yacht races etc. They are compelled to make the illegal modification to their HAM radio to operate it - illegally - on the marine frequencies, to communicate with other yachts and thereby risk interferrence to normal marine HF/SSB radio operations and safety communications.
3. Yachts fitted with radios without DSC failing to make contact with MRCCs. For example, I received an email
at 0200 local time from a yacht in the South China
Sea. The skipper
was very concerned about being followed by fishing
boats. It was lucky I was up at that time. He had been calling PAN-PAN on the marine emergency frequencies for hours and (predictably) getting no response. I emailed the IMO's Piracy
Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur and they immediatly arranged to open the DSC mutes on their radios and talk to the rather frantic yacht skipper
and his wife.
When GMDSS was introduced I was very concerned that this system for ships over 300 tonnes lead to the closure of Coast Radio Stations and abandonment of voice monitoring of the emergency frequencies for small-craft. It looked like safety communications for non-GMDSS vessels - including recreational vessels - had been abandoned by the relevent authorities.
But as the DSC system has been refined and the problems smoothed out, the price
of DSC equipped radios has dropped, and manufacturers like ICOM have created DSC radios suitable for small-craft, so I've come to see that tapping into this now well established and dependable emergency communications system presents great advantages for recreational vessel owners and their crews.
One of those advantages is that yachts with DSC can leave their radios muted, in standby mode, monitoring the emergency frequencies for DSC calls, and call each other using their MMSI number; similar to dialing a phone number. It's like having SelCall in a land HF/SSB network. A call will definately be heard because the radio goes into an alarm
state, unlike a voice call that will probably be missed, because someone turned down the speaker volume and/or the background noise level is too high.
I hope I've explained this adequately. Always appreciate other comments.