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Have you ever received a real DSC distress call?

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Ben Ellison
Estimable Member Admin
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 172
Topic starter  
I have spent a lot of time underway or moored with a fixed VHF turned on and able to receive DSC distress alerts within a fair range. I know that they are darn loud, and request attention, but I have never heard a real one and just one false alert. (While I do boat in fairly rural waters,  I'm now on the return leg of my third Maine to the Carolinas coastal roundtrip.)
So am I at the very low end of average DSC distress experience, or are there many other boaters who have not experienced a DSC distress call in the wild?
PS I do have a reason for asking this besides general interest. Last summer, when Dan Corcoran suggested live VHF test DSC Alerts, like the Emergency Broadcast Systems do over commercial FM/AM radio...
...I did get in touch with some USCG safety personnel about the idea. While it may be technically/legally impossible, they also questioned the need because they think that many boaters have already heard DSC distress alerts in action or at least been bothered by false ones. Please let me know your experience in the survey and please don't hesitate to add detail with a Forum reply.

Steve Mitchell
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 108

There are quite a few test DSC alerts out here near Seattle - I've seen at least one a month during the busy season - but I am not sure where they come from or if they are real tests, or something fouling up. They usually show up as AIS SART test or something similar.

I've also heard at least 10 real ones that I can think of. One or two of them actually triggered everything to point of me being able to hit "GO" on my auto pilot to take me to the reporting station. 

I think more tests would be great, especially if they were at a particular day/time every week or something. Would really help to validate everything is working on your boat!


Ben Stein
Estimable Member Admin
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 155

In 14 months travelling I heard one real distress and two false alerts.  In twelve years on Lake Michigan I've never heard a peep out of my DSC features of my radios.  To the point I had no confidence in the DSC functions.  

I've had experiences like Steve, when I receive a distress alert my helm goes nuts.  The radios make a heart-stopping racket and the MFDs would all really like to go to the location of distress.  The one time I received a real distress alert I took a picture of my radio's display because it showed lat & long of the distress and I wasn't sure what would happen if I acknowledged the call.  

I suspect we could do a couple of these polls.  Another interesting one would be around DSC station calling and group MMSIs.  Ben and I talked about it this morning and I know that neither he nor I have ever used them.  I have a feeling that's telling.  If neither of us have I suspect the ranks of those that have are pretty limited.  




evan effa
Active Member
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 7

Here, in coastal BC waters, over the past three years the  DSC alarm on our VHF has sounded many times; maybe 7 or 8 times? Most of these have been real distress calls but not all.  (At least 2 were foreign vessels doing a test and then getting reprimanded by the Canadian Coast Guard.)



Hartley Gardner
Eminent Member
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 18

Hi Ben, 

  We received one DSC alarm, while sailing South offshore of the mouth of the Columbia River in September of 2015.  Made a horrible racket (woke the skipper right up!) and left a mark on the screen of our Ray e95.  I also noted the presence of an AIS marker at the same location (about 25 miles behind us).  I waited a bit, but heard nothing on CH16, so I called the USCG and reported it.  They actually called us about 20 minutes later to thank us and tell us it was a false alarm from a fishing boat.

  Other than that -we got nuttin 🙂


Hartley & Lesley

S/V Atsa