If you plan to be anywhere beyond coastal VHF
communication networks, you need a marine HF/SSB with DSC
to maintain direct contact with shore based MRCCs and with any other yachts, commercial
vessels etc that are nearby but over the horizon.
This marine radio
based comms system - for advise, support, spare parts
, some fuel
or a tow - works despite variations in shore emergency phone
contacts, and the need to know who is just over the horizon and their satphone or cellphone number. It is optomised for the operational realities of cruisers or commercial
vessels when beyond coastal VHF
services (with DSC) in order to create a mutual support network to assist all mariners, for GENERAL day-to-day activities and requests, and for DISTRESS
The broadcast feature of radio means one DSC
call alert and one voice transmission
of your request or problem can reach all vessels with similar radios in range, immediately and simultaneously. Without thousands of satphone calls or sms messages. And without needing to know if those satphones or cellphones are nearby and the numbers. And those vessels contacted via radio have possibly thousands of mariners, some with the answers, advice or assistance you need.
When operating within the protective umbrella of coastal VHF networks (eg around coastal UK, Europe
of North America) VHF marine radios with DSC will do the job. When operating beyond coastal VHF networks but still within range of immediate response shore based S&R services, a satphone, with the number of your local Coast Guard station or maritime emergency
co-ordiantion centre could be sufficient. (This is the UK/Europe solution that can mostly work given their relatively small S&R responsibility areas.)
Once beyond the range of shore-based S&R services, you need to communicate with other nearby mariners, in yachts, fishing
boats, commercial vessels etc. You won't know their satphone numbers either, or which are nearby. But the broadcast feature of radio and the All-Call nature of DSC DISTRESS
calls is desigend to address that uncertainty; all DSC capable radios which your DSC DISTRESS call reaches will be triggered into an alarm
state - to attract the crew's attention - and those hundreds or thousands of capable, resourceful mariners with spare parts, a line for a tow etc will be able to judge if they can assist you, and reply.
This works extremely well for commercail vessels because in many countries (for small commercial vesels under 300 tonnes) and around the world (for large commercail vessels over 300 tonnes) it is compulsory for them to carry a DSC capable HF/SSB radio and maintain it in 24/7 standby watch (with a comfortably muted speaker), listening for DSC calls. Yacht owners who fit a similar radio can immediately link into this existing, compulsory, existing, effective, network. Easy.
Yacht owners who consider the welfare of other mariners - including the family
on the yacht they spent time with in the last anchorage - take the effort to do something similar. They fit a marine DSC capable HF/SSB radio and maintain it in 24/7 standby, in the open ocean, when coastal cruising beyond shore VHF networks, and in their peaceful anchorage. This radio makes no noise
, unless it recives an alarm
. It does not require any effort on the part of the yacht crew to maintain a watch, the smart technology in the radio does it for you; making a noise only when it receives a call.
Calls can be INDIVIDUAL - to your yacht specific MMSI number, like a phone
number - or GROUP calls to a group of yachts in a rally or race
or cruise-in-company group, or your yacht club members, or DISTRESS calls - to every similar radio. It's a really smart and versatile system that is designed by smart mariners to work effectively for all mariners, in big or small vessels. It creates an immediate response mutual support network in an environment
beyond emergency numbers and regular emergency services.
But it only works because everyone takes the effort to contribute. 1500 people on the Titanic learnt the hard way what happens when the radio is turned off; they died. The nearby and visible SS Californian radio operator turned off his radio and went to bed
, just ten minutes before the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg. By the time he got up and switched on the radio in the morning, it was all over, the Titaninc was gone and 1500 people were already dead.
When the Chiki Rafiki inverted last year and four crew were tossed into the Atlantic, because it's keel
fell off, they Coast Guard tracked their PLB for a day or two. But neither the Coast Guard (using DSC and open emergency frequency calling) nor the HAM networks, could find a nearby yacht or other vessel to go to the PLB location before the battery
failed. Presumably because all the yachts and other small craft in the vicinity had their radios turned off.
And also because those nearby with only a satphone could not be called because how is it possible to know which of them is nearby and their satphone number; call every satphone number in the world? The satphone seems to be a quick fix, cheap
option for long distance yachts comms. But it really is not. It lacks the broadcast, silent watch, simultaneous information distribution and free-to-talk characteristics of modern marine radio with DSC. As a number of contributors have stated, they each do useful but very different tasks.
When you reach the next port or anchorage, how will you feel when you read that 200 people on a cruise ship
just died as you sailed past nearby, but over the horizon. Or the EPIRB/PLBs from the yacht with the family
of two adults and three children
you spent a fun time with in the last anchorage ran out of battery
power because the closest yachts with their radio switched on could not get there fast enough. But you were close, but without the right radio (marine, DSC capable) or you had the right radio but it was switched off; because you decided it was more important to run the cabin
lights than the radio.
And what would you wish for if you and your crew/family were in the water
after your keel
fell off. There are a lot of people sailing in yachts constructed like Chiki Rafiki. You took the right self-preservation steps by having everyone kitted with inflatable
life-jackets, PLBs etc. Now that you are in the water
all you need is your friends in the rally or another nearby yacht to have their radio on so the Coast Cuard or other MRCC can contact them and ask them to go to your precise EPIRB/PLB location and pick you out of the water. Either before you are all smashed onto the coastal cliffs, or before the EPIRB/PLB runs out of battery, or before your kids
die of hypothermia, one after the other, youngest/smallest first.
The report of the Titanic sinking resulted in all passenger ships of the time being required to have their radio on and manned 24/7. The recent MAIB report into the loss of the four Chiki Rafiki crew highlighted that yacht crews need to be self-sufficient when operating away from coastal S&R facilities. A modern marine HF/SSB radio with DSC does not require a radio opertor, it does the work itself, silently - if switched on - and thereby helps create a self-support network of yacht crews that look after each other.
In answer to the question of is a SSB
controller needed. You definately need the radio to help you manage your yachting vacations and adventures, to keep in contact with cruising friends, other rally participants, etc, and to play your role in contributing to the emergency support networj for all other mariners. The addition of the Pactor
controller is a relative minor expense for all the low-cost (especially compared to satphone data) benefits it brings via the not-for-profit SailMail service
. For example, email
, GRIB weather charts
, position reporting, METAREA and coastal forecasts etc. And SailMail's software
very seriously (eg: 3 x times) speeds up data transfers via a backup satphone.
We all need each other to have the correct marine HF/SSB radio with DSC, and run it 24/7 whenever active in our yachts, at sea or in a snug coastal anchorage.
If we all do it for each other, help, advice, waypoints, spare parts, a pump or tow is only a radio call or short distance away. And so is being picked from the water with your family, or friends.