Ocean Navigator Communications Newsletter #26
What's going on in the World of GMDSS & DSC
GMDSS seems to be a popular conversation topic lately. At least in my circle anyway. For the acronymophobe, GMDSS stands for the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. The system was created in 1979 and has been slowly phasing in for larger ships and passenger ships. As operators of pleasure craft, most of us aren't bound by the GMDSS carriage requirements but we have benefited from the trickle down technologies that are to some degree an outgrowth of GMDSS. The most prominent example is Digital Selective Calling or DSC. All new VHF radios manufactured in the US (and submitted for type acceptance to the FCC) are required to be DSC compliant. What all this boils down to is that there are an increasing number of DSC radios out there on recreational boats. The good news is that if you were the push the red "emergency" button on your DSC radio - someone will hear you. The bad news is that the Coast Guard won't hear you!
The US Coast Guard is responsible for answering VHF distress calls in what's known as "Sea Area A1" which covers about 20 to 30 miles off the coast. Unfortunately, they haven't had the budget available to improve all of their coastal stations to be equipped with DSC equipment. So, your DSC call will be heard by other nearby boaters with DSC radios, but will not (yet) be heard by the Coast Guard. The good news is that General Dynamics was recently awarded a contract to remedy this situation. This new project, officially called the National Distress and Response System Modernization Project (or NDRSMP for the acronymophile), and recently nicknamed "Rescue 21", is set to roll out between 2003 and 2006, with New Jersey, eastern Maryland, and western Florida to be the earliest available regions. See more at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-a/ndrsmp/index.htm
In more pressing GMDSS news -- I wrote recently (in newsletter #21) about the lack of sufficient information collected by the FCC when applying for a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) - a precursor to operating a DSC radio. The gist of the issue is that when applying for an MMSI from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), they don't request or record all of the information the Coast Guard might need in the event of an emergency. This includes items like, "vessel description and emergency shore-side contact". This issue has finally risen to significant importance, and the FCC is set to act on the Coast Guard's petition. They are seeking comment from the public. So, here's what I recommend:
1) Brush up on the issue by reading http://www.marinecomputer.com/articles/ONnewsletters/onnl021.html and http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/marcomms/gmdss/petition.htm
2) Take a look at the following words which I've echoed (plagiarized?) from the comments of Coast Guard Capt. Jack Fueschel (Ret.) who is the director of the GMDSS Task Force:
The issue in a nutshell is that the FCC has not followed the IMO recommendation that Administrations collect a broader set of descriptive vessel details when issuing MMSI numbers. The [GMDSS] Task Force would like to see a positive response from a broad cross section of the maritime community supporting the petition. BOAT US and Sea Tow also issue MMSI numbers to vessels which do not require aStation License but are required by the FCC to collect the full data set. All vessels operators should insist that the Coast Guard have access to full descriptive information on their vessels in event of a distress situation.
3) The official FCC notice seeking comment can be found at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-02-3563A1.pdf and it directs the public to send in their opinions by January 27 (referencing Public Notice DA-03-3563) to each of the following places:
Office of the Secretary
Qualex International (Qualex),
Don't ask me to explain exactly why you need to send four paper copies to four different people who are all in the same building! That's just the way the beaurocracy works, I guess. The only one of the four contacts offering an email address is Mr. Khalek who has been the point-person at the FCC for this issue. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
With apologies to Mr. Khalek for the impending email flood he might soon receive, I'll sign off here and encourage you all to check in and make your opinion known. In the event that you ever hit the Big Red Button on your radio, you'll be glad you did!
Keep in touch.
- Dan Piltch