Damn bureaucracy: if you use the VHF DSC distress call you get a ticket. But.


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BG-H50-wireless-vhf-handset-top-distress-buttonWe tell you another story of short-sighted and unnecessary bureaucracy that is vexatious to recreational boaters. Let’s start from the beginning.

Every boat sailing beyond six miles from the coast is required to have a VHF which by law must have a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) button. What is it for? Simply pressing the red DSC button that says “ Distress,” which in Italian means “danger, difficulty, emergency,” automatically launches a distress call (Securité/Pan-Pan/May Day) that is received by all ships and shore stations that can be reached by the VHF signal (about 25 miles in optimal conditions).

Thanks to this rescue system, which operates on digital channel 70 reserved exclusively for these calls, without any manual intervention the type of boat, GPS location, time of the call, and type of request are communicated to rescuers, to which a voice message can also be added.

All beautiful and most of all very useful. Too bad this service practically cannot be used. Or rather, in order to use it any yachtsman has to go through such a bureaucratic rigmarole, resulting in costs and loss of entire days, that he ends up, rightly so, not using it.

Or he uses it anyway, not giving a damn about the regulations but is subject to heavy fines.


And yes, because the very useful DSC system can still be used, in defiance of bureaucracy, simply by having the MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) code i.e., unique 9-digit number that identifies one’s boat and useful for making automated calls as well, sending one’s identity and addressing specific messages to known recipients, or recognizing stations that eventually call or answer.

But even here for those flying the Italian flag, we get stuck in the meshes of bureaucracy unlike, for example, those flying the Belgian flag who have it delivered to their homes without any rigmarole.

To obtain the MMSI, those flying the Italian flag must make an application to the relevant Ministry (Economic Development, who knows why) complete with a revenue stamp(download the PDF of the application here)

Even easier if you have an EPIRB because you should already then have your boat’s MMSI identifier, which is needed to activate the instrument.


We explain in a few words how the activation of the red “Distress” button for a distress call works in practice:

Lift up the Distress button cover on the VHF faceplate and press it for 5 seconds;

a countdown message will be displayed. Releasing the button during the countdown interrupts the call;

if you have sufficient time you can update the emergency data. If the radio is not’ interfaced with the Gps you have to enter the coordinates and time;

now the call is ready, you press the Distress button again, for two seconds, and the call information occurs on the display;

To confirm the call you press the button again for another 5 seconds.

raymarine_ray240_e42001_modular_marine_vhf_radio_system_-_easy_access_distress_buttonIF YOU WANT TO USE DSC WITHOUT A FINE YOU HAVE TO GO TO ROME
But if you don’t want to risk getting a ticket in the unfortunate possibility’ of having to use the red “Distress” button on the DSC to call for help, you have to get into the meshes of bureaucracy and red tape. In fact, to be in good standing you must take a special course to learn how to use the DSC and take an exam to obtain the SRC (Short Range Certificate).

The location of the exam is only in Rome and there one must go to take the exam (Ministry of Economic Development, DGSCERP-Division 3-GMDSS Examination Commission- Viale America, 201-00144 Rome- tel. 06 5444.2819).

Of course, there are special nautical schools and associations that for modest sums of 100 to 300 euros prepare you for the exam. But there is also the usual loophole of not having to travel to Rome, we repeat only place to take the exam to use without incurring fines the DSC. It is enough, for example, to enroll in a course organized at locations closer to one’s residence with the issuance of a license to use the DSC, or SRC (Short Range Certificate), English (UK MCA) equally valid even if one flies any flag of any nation in the world, including Italy.

Moral of the story: this is why many experts advise risking getting a fine by equally activating the DSC in case of a distress call for one’s boat in case of a serious dangerous situation. So much for bureaucracy.



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