Mariners are encouraged to invest in a VHF-FM radio as their primary means of distress alerting on the water. Communication via VHF-FM radio provides superior alerting capabilities over cellular phones. A VHF-FM radio provides superior service in a maritime emergency because:
When a MAYDAY is sent out via VHF-FM radio it is a broadcast, not just one party is receiving the distress call; any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance. Cellular phones are point to point; other boaters in the area can not hear the call and consequently will not be able to respond.
With the Coast Guardís Rescue 21 system, improvements to the National Distress and Response System (which is monitored by Coast Guard Sector communications centers) coming on line, any call, distress or otherwise, placed over a VHF-FM radio will have an associated line of bearing (LOB). This LOB significantly narrows the area to which Coast Guard or other responders must look to find the boater making the call. In many locations two or more LOBís will be associated with a call; the intersection of those LOBís will provide the position of the caller. A cell phone doesnít do this. If the distressed caller does not know his location it is difficult and time consuming to determine a position through the wireless companies. This is often aggravated by low batteries and poor reception.
VHF-FM radios are manufactured today with Digital Selective Calling (DSC). This feature provides the mariner with an emergency feature that will send a distress with the vesselís information and Global Positioning System (GPS) location at the press of a button. It is important to note that the DSC radio must be properly registered with an MMSI number through Boat US and the radio must be properly interfaced with the GPS in order to send an accurate position to assist emergency responders to respond to the distress.
All maritime boaters should have a VHF-FM radio onboard their vessel to assure any calls of distress are heard immediately. Cell phones should only be used as a secondary means of communications.