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Video explains new rescue system

Boaters should know how to use VHF digital selective calling, the heart of the Coast Guard Rescue 21 system

Boaters should know how to use VHF digital selective calling, the heart of the Coast Guard Rescue 21 system

New Rescue 21 technology should vastly improve both routine and emergency VHF communications, but not if pleasure boaters don’t learn how to use it first.

“Everybody on shore knows what 911 is all about,” says video producer John Sabella, chief executive of John Sabella & Associates of Seattle. “If a woman is riding in the car and her husband has chest pains, she knows that all she has to do is call 911.” Help soon will be on the way.

Sabella and the Coast Guard are concerned that if boaters don’t educate themselves now, they aren’t going to be up to speed in the use of digital selective calling, the core technology of the Coast Guard’s new Rescue 21 VHF-based communications system.

The agency is phasing the system in nationwide over the next three years, and is expected to start using it as early as this fall in New Jersey and along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Manufacturers have been incorporating DSC into all their new-model radios since 1999, but they still can sell old models without the DSC feature.

Sabella, with encouragement of the Coast Guard and a distress communications task force, has privately produced a three-part DVD and videocassette series, “Taking the Search out of Search and Rescue,” to introduce boaters to the new generation of emergency communications.

The first part explains what Rescue 21 is and why it’s important. The second part gives a tour of DSC and its features, and explains how to use it. Part three tells how Rescue 21 fits into a worldwide overhaul of emergency communications technology in commercial shipping called the Global Maritime Distress & Safety System, or GMDSS.

“The reason we created this thing now is to get the learning curve going,” says Sabella. “If you’re a recreational boater and you’re going to a chandler to buy a VHF, you’d be crazy to buy one without DSC.” He says it is the wave of a future that has just about arrived.

Unless boaters learn to use DSC, Sabella says the Coast Guard fears that:

• A lot of false alerts will ensue. DSC VHF radios have a red button that when pushed transmits a digital emergency signal over channel 70 to Coast Guard watchstanders, ships and others who have DSC radios.

• Spouses who crew won’t know how to use the new VHF distress technology in an emergency if the skipper is incapacitated.

• Boat owners won’t be aware that unless they have applied through BoatU.S. or Sea Tow for a Mobile Maritime Security Identifier, the DSC unit won’t be registered with the Coast Guard and one of its chief advantages — its ability to send out an emergency signal with a unique nine-digit vessel identifier imbedded in it — will be lost.

• Unless the owner interfaces the DSC unit with external GPS, its ability to send out the emergency signal with the boat’s GPS location imbedded in it — another of DSC’s benefits — also will be lost.

“If you’ve got DSC, the Coast Guard’s concern is that you ought to know how to use it,” Sabella says. He says in a number of European countries DSC training is required for pleasure boaters.

The three-part DVD sells for $49.50. The VHS version comes in three videotapes — one for each part in the series and each priced at $24.95. All three are available for $59.95.

John Sabella & Associates, Seattle. Phone: (206) 281-8626. www.johns Shipboard Video Express, South Toms River, N.J. Phone: (732) 818-9883. www.shipboardvideo