VHF radio recalls, not to worry?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 13, 2013
nearly_empty_VHF_shelves_at_West_Marine cPanbo.jpg

A Panbo reader sent this recent photo of empty VHF shelves at a West Marine in Florida along with a store manager's report that Standard Horizon and Uniden had called in their inventory for a software upgrade needed to meet an FCC regulation. Yikes? The reader wondered if this had something to do with Class D VHF mandates and worried about same model radios that had already been bought and installed. My head hurts from the research involved but I'm pretty sure that the answer is "no worries"...

What I think is going on is largely bureaucratic and has little to do with the features and performance you actually get from your radio. On March 25, 2011, it became illegal in the U.S.A. to manufacture, import, sell or install fixed VHF radios built to RTCM Standard SC-101. The ruling was U.S. specific because no other country had permitted SC-101, which made DSC VHF sets less expensive to build because the radio could just poll DSC channel 70 frequently instead of having a separate dedicated receiver to monitor it. This was a fairly big deal as SC-101 radios can miss DSC calls when they're in use, though in fact most manufacturers had already gone to full Class D (dual receiver) sets well before March, 2011.
  Now we go into the weeds. What the original FCC ruling actually said was that all U.S. VHF sets must be built to the international specification ITU-R M.493-11 (which only permits Class D at minimum) but what it should have cited was the newer ITU-R M.493-13 Recommendation. So in December, 2011, the FCC issued a public notice that is sort of an apology but which also set a deadline of January 1, 2013, for full compliance with 493-13. (I challenge you to read that bit of gobbledygook without sighing.)  So what is the difference between 493-11 and 493-13?  Standard Horizon's Jason Kennedy told me that while he isn't an engineer he thinks that 13 tries to make DSC easier to use and is one of the reasons that many companies like his have gone to soft key radio interfaces. (The ITU lets you download a complete 493-13 PDF here; see if you can figure out what it means in terms of actual radio design, but keep headache medicine handy ;-).
  Kennedy also sent me FCC certificates indicating that all current Standard Horizon radios meet the ITU 493-13 specification (it's a "recommendation" that's used as a specification). But what ruined his holidays was learning that the actual certified software had not been going into production radios as early as he thought; hence the nation-wide inventory recall "to be on the safe side." When I asked if a user could detect a difference between an updated radio and an older one, Kennedy said he very much doubted it. Standard Horizon and other manufacturers have been trying to build to the 493-13 spec for some time; the recall was just a matter of the exact FCC certified software. Apparently Uniden had a similar issue and in my research I discovered that Raymarine tried to get a 493-13 waiver for the RAY240 but the FCC denied it. I don't know why that radio couldn't be brought up to the -13 spec but apparently Ray has a new model in the works.
  Another item the FCC "clarified" in that December 2011 Notice was that both ITU 493-11 and -13 require a VHF radio to have a DSC Test routine. Apparently some manufacturers had missed that nice feature in the spec (you try reading it!), but I know that Standard Horizon has had it for a while, or at least that I tried it successfully on a Matrix AIS GX2100 back in August, 2011. I appreciate the efforts of regulators to make DSC VHF easier to use, but will its use ever become common? During my research, I came across this PROPOSALS FOR A PRELIMINARY DRAFT REVISION OF RECOMMENDATION ITU-R M.493-13 (PDF), which suggests a standard menu structure among other things. Would that make a difference? I pretty well understand all the DSC options seen in that menu below and can find them on various sets from Icom, SH, Garmin, Sailor, etc. but I rarely use them because nobody else does.
  In fact, I used regular VHF a fair amount during my trip from Maine to South Carolina -- and was glad that the radios have GPS connections and are ready to output DSC Distress calls if needed -- but I never received a DSC call of any kind and didn't make any myself. Is it different in your area? Also, please speak up if you know anything more about the FCC 493-13 ruling, especially if it makes an actual difference to boaters.

ITU_M493-13_draft_changes_from_Hungary.jpg

Comments

Hello Ben,

Re the revision of the DSC spec. The ITU committee responsible meets in Geneva in May. I am a member.

The aim of the revision will be to make DSC as easy to use as possible. Unnecessary stuff will be removed (hopefully!).

There have been 13 revisions of the spec...we want to make -14 the last for some time, so we have to get it right.

Industry, regulators, educators and users need a stable specification.

Regards
Glenn Dunstan
www.gmdss.info

Posted by: Glenn Dunstan at January 14, 2013 8:23 AM | Reply

Strange that FCC imposes new standards that are still in the process of correction and acceptance by, amongst others, IMO and the rest of The World!

The chairman of ITU WP5B does not forecast stability in M493-13 until March 2013 and that date has slipped 6 months already!

What happens if M493 has material changes during this revision?

Another recall???

Posted by: Dave Walsh at January 14, 2013 9:50 AM | Reply

I don't understand, Dave. The copy of M493-13 that ITU offers for download (link above) is dated October, 2009, and says nothing about "draft" or "preliminary" or similar. Plus the Proposal for Draft Revisions to 493-13 that I also linked to is dated June, 2011, and Glenn says he'll soon be working on 493-14. So confusing.

Can either of you point us at an explanation of what the current specs mean in plainer English?

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dave Walsh at January 14, 2013 10:26 AM | Reply


In answer to your question about having received a DSC call, the answer is yes. My club publishes a roster for club cruises and some of us use it routinely.

A more interesting experience occurred offshore a few years ago when the Navy was hailing a cruise ship on 16. After finally making contact, the Navy directed the cruise ship to alter course to stay clear of a Navy vessel. AIS quickly told me that the cruise ship's new course was a collision course with mine. Rather than suffering the Navy's frustration of repeated channel 16 hails and corresponding delay, I used the cruise ship's MMSI # (shown as part of its AIS info) to place a DSC call to the cruise ship. My call was answered in about 20 seconds and we easily negotiated our passing.

Posted by: Rick O at January 14, 2013 3:12 PM | Reply

I know everyone at Standard must of lost some sleep over this recall. However I have it on good authority that the new updated radios will be shipping very soon! I am not sure if this was planned before the recall happened or not but Standard has announced the new spring rebates that go all the way to 7/31 and they are the best they have ever offered from what I have been told. http://www.standardhorizon.com/pdf/1-10-2013_Spring_Rebate.pdf

Posted by: Jason at January 14, 2013 3:54 PM | Reply

Great to hear, Rick. There's no question that DSC technology can work well; it's just seem sad that so few use it.

Meanwhile, Dave Walsh sent me the material behind his worries and it looks to me like chairman of the ITU work group is talking about the next version of M493, not the current -13 version.

But Dave still wonders if "-14 could introduce big changes to -13 so another recall?"

Which makes me think I need to take another crack at clarifying the current situation: NEITHER THE FCC NOR THE ITU RECALLED ANY RADIOS! What the FCC did here in the States was to set a 1/1/2013 deadline for radios certified to M493-13, a standard which has actually been out since 2009. Standard Horizon and others have been building radios to this standard for a long time; the hiccup was making sure that all inventory as of 1/1 is running the certified version of the software.

In short, there is no precedent for the ITU or FCC demanding changes to radios that are in the field or in inventory because they change their standard. Once M493-14 becomes real, then, yes, maybe then the FCC will set a future date when new radios have to comply. That's it, I think, and moreover DSC really isn't that hard to use on current radios.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Ben at January 14, 2013 4:08 PM | Reply

Whether it is -13 or -14, the question is how” robust” and tested is -13 which the FCC have mandated.
It has “defects” as previously described to you like polling and position request calls not being recognised by legacy equipment’s etc.

in 2008 IMO who, after all “own” GMDSS sent a liaison statement to ITU concerning, at the time M493-12 which advised “It was considered that attempts to introduce additional functionalities in DSC equipment intended for use on non-SOLAS ships has the potential to degrade the smooth operation of the GMDSS” and “IMO thanks ITU-R for their work in revising Recommendation ITU-R M.493 but advises that, since DSC is now a well-established system of some 30 years standing, any proposed changes should be confirmed by sufficient studies and testing, which could include field trials of equipment, before the changes to the system are recommended. Can the FCC produce the results of their studies and testing to prove the reliability and functioning of M493-13?
I share your sentiment"moreover DSC really isn't that hard to use on current radios.

Posted by: Dave Walsh in reply to Ben at January 14, 2013 4:51 PM | Reply

Hello all

-13 has quite a few errors.

IMHO, the FCC should not have mandated it - they should have waited for -14......

Rgds
Glenn

Posted by: Glenn Dunstan at January 14, 2013 5:10 PM | Reply

Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear that, Glenn. But won't it be years before anyone will see M493-14 VHF radios, and then only in new sets?

And thanks, Dave, but can you please refresh my memory on "defects previously described to you" (or by me)?

Posted by: Ben in reply to Glenn Dunstan at January 14, 2013 5:32 PM | Reply

I've had a bad enough experience with DSC to hope that there is a guaranteed way to mute the ringer for "all ship" related calls.

Antenna on a 50'+ mast. All night some kind of all ships distress alert kept on triggering the damn thing. The distances were a long days sail from our anchorage.

Finally I gave up, and just turned the radio off entirely and got my handheld going.

Posted by: Johnd at January 15, 2013 11:49 PM | Reply

Why don't they just settle on a standard interface that uses the same sequence of key-presses as a mobile phone? i.e., push the DSC button, then get a keypad that allows you to key in a DSC number. Then "Send". All the rest of the special features get separate menus to add to your contact list, or make up groups, except the emergency button, which should stay prominent on the face of the unit. Even things like the channel for communication could be an option that you set once.

Keep it simple, so that people find it easy to use. I think that the reason most people don't use it right now is because it is too complicated to use, and just calling on 16 is so much easier.

Also, there should be SOME way to tone down the volume on the call announcement. The French govt uses DSC all the time for Panne-Panne (French for "breakdown") calls, when someone runs out of gas, or needs a tow, and it is quite shockingly annoying to have the DSC alarm go off for this. Maybe it is OK for SOS, but not for out-of-gas.

Posted by: rxc at January 16, 2013 5:57 AM | Reply

We are fortunate that the FCC incorporated the ITU recommendation in their regulations, as now we can actually see what it says without having to buy it from the ITU. I very much dislike the notion that I own devices like a DSC radio or a NMEA-2000 display, and the fundamental specifications of the standard to which they were built it not available for download without purchase. With the FCC making these commendations part of US regulations, at least we can see what the recommendation or regulation has to say.

That there is complexity in the recommendation does not mean we cannot make further progress. That reaching agreement is a slow process is acceptable, given that it is a global recommendation that could affect many hundred thousands of vessels.

Among the several other boaters that I cruise with, we all have DSC radios. Most are fully integrated to the chart plotter. We often use DSC calls for position poll to keep track of our positions, and we also use DSC for voice calls. But as the USCG Admiral's letter noted, 90-percent of boaters in distress appear to not have their DSC radio installed in even the most basic interconnection to their GPS receiver or chart plotter. I suspect that means that use of DSC calling and polling features is at about that same level or lower.

It is my observation that Standard-Horizon tends to be a leader in digital selective calling features. I think they were on the ground floor of the position polling and also on the enhanced position accuracy reporting in DSC.

As for VHF Marine Band radios making strange loud noises, this can also occur in the USA if there is a weather alert transmitted by NOAA. The first time this happened I was so confused the only remedy I could employ to cancel the alarm was to switch off power to the radio. This is clearly not what the designers of the alert system intended to produce. It was only much later, after finding the manual and reading it over carefully, that I figured out the source of the alarm was due to a weather alert. I considered myself to be a sophisticated user of the radio, but I was taken by surprise buy the weather alerting.

Posted by: Jim Hebert at January 16, 2013 8:58 AM | Reply

Jim, M493-13 is widely available on the web; even free from ITU!

If you read it carefully you will note that slavish acceptance of 493-13 (Table 4.7)defines a position request as an Urgency & Safety individual call. By 493-13 such individual calls are not permitted by Class D VHF .Polling (table 4.7) has no symbol permitting same for a Class D. So, in theory, strict adherence to the recommendation will mean those “many hundred thousands of vessels ”who’s product follows pervious practice of assigning these type of call to Routine individual calls, will, in essence be rendered deaf and dumb to a strict M493-13 unit. This is just one example of the operational, practical and legal deficiencies in a “instrument” just mandated by the FCC!


They are fully aware of these “defects”; they attend ITU en masse!

Posted by: Dave Walsh in reply to Jim Hebert at January 16, 2013 9:55 AM | Reply

Gosh, Jim, I think I put the ITU 493-13 PDF link clearly into the entry above, as in:

"The ITU lets you download a complete 493-13 PDF here:

http://www.itu.int/dms_pubrec/itu-r/rec/m/R-REC-M.493-13-200910-I!!PDF-E.pdf

Also Dave send me more detail on 493-13 "defects", which is depressing:

"1. almost all the current product in the field will be unable to respond to a position request as M493-13 defines it as Table 4.7 and 4.9 – Individual calls Position request and Position acknowledgement are contained in Table 4.7 under the heading of Urgency and Safety calls. However existing VHF and MF/HF equipment which provides Position request facilities uses an implementation using a Routine call which is not compatible

2. Table 4.2 – Distress acknowledgments The procedures for cancelling a distress alert that was inadvertently transmitted are given in Resolution 349 (WRC-07) to the Radio Regulations. These procedures, which form the basis of operator training and also IMO Resolution A.814 (19), do not include any procedure for DSC self cancel operation. Moreover Class D and E DSC equipment does not include the capability for distress acknowledgement calls as described in Annex 2 to the Recommendation. The footnote to Table 4.2 is thus inconsistent with the Radio Regulations, IMO requirements and operator training. Similarly Paragraph 3.2.4.4 of Annex 4 is inconsistent.

3 Table 4.4 – Distress relay acknowledgementsThe requirement to transmit a distress relay acknowledgement by Class D and Class E ship stations is included in Table 4.4. This is inconsistent with Annex 2 to the Recommendation which requires a receive only capability for distress acknowledgements.

4 Table 4.5 – Urgency and safety calls All ships urgency and safety calls are not included in Table 4.5. This is incompatible with existing equipment which has an all ships capability and moreover operator training includes the transmission of all ships urgency and safety calls. All ships urgency and safety calls are required for backward compatibility

These are just , in my opinion, the most important defects!"

BUT, regarding Johnd's bad alarm experience, note that one stated purpose of 493-13 is "that after experience gained, a need exists to reduce unnecessary alarms and simplify operation of shipborne equipment"

Also see 3.1.1.1: "The sounding of any alarm should simultaneously display the reason for the alarm and the means to silence it."

& 3.1.1.3: " Only the first occurrence of a received DSC message should sound the alarms described in
§ 3.1.1.2. {Distress & Urgency}"

Posted by: BenTest at January 16, 2013 10:16 AM | Reply

It is wonderful that the specification is available from ITU for no cost. I don't think this has always been the case. I leave this sidebar to be explored further at another time. I apologize for introducing it here.

On the very insightful comment that Dave Walsh made about position request, I offer this observation:

When I used DSC to get a position report from another vessel--we were both using Standard-Horizon radios--I noticed that on my chart plotter, a Lowrance HDS-8, a waypoint was created. In the details of this object the chart plotter provided the further information that this DSC call was a "UNDESIGNATED DISTRESS" call. I thought this to be rather odd. I wrote to Lowrance to ask about this. They replied that this presentation was correct, saying "...UNDESIGNATED DISTRESS call is proper for the type of call you were receiving...."

I was skeptical, thinking perhaps that Lowrance was wrong. Or, possibly Standard-Horizon was wrong, and sent the wrong data. However, Dave Walsh's comment seems to affirm the presentation as strictly correct. That is quite interesting. I make the inference that these position reports were somewhat grafted onto the existing framework, resulting in them being categorized as UNDESIGNATED DISTRESS calls.

That seems like a poor framework. A system should not mark routine calls as UNDESIGNATED DISTRESS calls. That practice can only lead to confusion.

Posted by: Jim Hebert at January 16, 2013 12:08 PM | Reply

I hold no allegiance to the two suppliers and do not know their product in depth but the call made as you described should have been a Routine individual call!


All the problems should be ironed out when M493 eventually becomes stable and everybody including, the FCC, follow the wise words of IMO COMSAR 12 “who advised that, since DSC is now a well-established system of some 30 years standing, any proposed changes should be confirmed by sufficient STUDIES and TESTING, which could include field trials of equipment, BEFORE the changes to the system are recommended”

p.s. the capitalization is mine

Posted by: Dave Walsh in reply to Jim Hebert at January 16, 2013 12:39 PM | Reply

Navico has some problems with the FCC VHF mandate too. Apparently the Lowrance LVR-250 and LVR-880 as well as the Simrad RS10 and RS25 are not compliant with ITU M493-13 and have been, or will soon be, replaced by compliant models. Navico is asking U.S. dealers who may still have stock of non-compliant models to take them off the market and is offering an inventory swap for the newer models.

Panbo entry new models here: http://tinyurl.com/panbo-new-navico-VHF

Posted by: Ben at January 18, 2013 4:46 PM | Reply

Navico clarified its ITC compliance situation:

"Regarding the ITU-493-13 issue, we have some affected and unaffected models. Overall Navico is in pretty good shape.

Lowrance Link-5 has been shipping for some time and is fully compliant.
Simrad RS12 has been shipping for some time and is fully compliant.

First Lowrance Link-8 should be in stock in the USA next week, it is fully compliant. It replaces LVR-880 which is non-compliant.
RS35 is due in stock early March, it is fully compliant, it replaces RS25 which is non-compliant.

We have communicated what is compliant/non-compliant to the sales channel in the USA and asked for any non-compliant models to be returned for swapping to newer compliant models."

Posted by: Ben at February 5, 2013 8:21 AM | Reply

Icom is in the FCC DSC doghouse now, and has temporarily stopped selling fixed VHF radios in the USA. See documentation here:

http://www.thehulltruth.com/marine-electronics-forum/779004-icom-dsc-radios-not-sale-usa.html#post9323618

It's sad to me that some of posters on that HullTruth thread immediately assume that their existing Icom VHF needs to be updated. Maybe Icom will have an update program, I don't know, but the changes demanded by the FCC consent order seem quite minor.

And there's the fact that hardly anyone uses DSC, also sad.

Posted by: Ben at August 10, 2016 12:26 PM | Reply

Even sadder was the fellow who immediately assumed that the missing features were why his "...installer was unable to get it working with my Garmin chartplotter..".

But maybe that level of ignorance is why DSC doesn't get used - it's too complicated and scary (with the ever-present risk of the durn thing calling the CG unintentionally) for the average boater to use. :(

Posted by: Hartley at August 12, 2016 7:57 AM | Reply

I wonder how much these problems arise from the nature of the user interface on VHF radios. When DSC first came out, there were no smart phones, and everything on mobile devices was done by pushing buttons to get thru arcane menus and then you had to fiddle with knobs and buttons to enter numbers and letters, etc. DSC is a real pain in the neck to use with the current interface.

Now, we have really cheap smart phone interfaces, so why haven't the VHF producers just bought an existing cell phone screen interface that is actually used in a cell phone, and attached it to their radio transmitters? Cell phones have all sorts of radio transmitters inside them, and many are also waterproof, so the argument about the "challenging marine environment" cannot be that hard to deal with.

I don't think I am going to buy a new VHF until the manufacturers do something about their interfaces. There is no excuse for them to still sell stuff that is designed to a 1960 interface.

Posted by: rxc at August 12, 2016 9:50 AM | Reply

MFD designers take note -- a page to make DSC calls via the MFD with a nice modern interface would be a great feature.

I listen to channel 16 and it does not give me much confidence in fellow boaters. I'm guessing that about 90% of the calls here are between buddy boats. They would benefit from using DSC if they only knew about it. I suspect there are areas where the CG wishes 16 was emergency use only ;-)

Posted by: norse at August 12, 2016 11:16 PM | Reply

Norse, I would agree with your assesment - but consider the steps needed to make that DSC call.
1) Obtain an MMSI (either Boat US or FCC).
2) Program your DSC radio with your MMSI.
3) Get your buddy to get their own MMSI.
4) Get them to program their MMSI into their radio.
5) Find out what their MMSI is and punch it into your radio.
6) make the call.

Given the number of non-DSC radios still out there, the percentage of boaters with an actual MMSI and the difficulties of obtaining and punching in all those numbers, we should be amazed that ANYBODY is using DSC!

Yes, a better UI would help, as would making an MMSI easier to obtain (and look up). An MMSI is 9 digits, a phone number is 10, so we should be able to deal with it.

I'm not so sure the touch interface that cellfones use is the answer, however - I have had fits with both my cell and my touch-screen MFD when they get drippy wet - with the MFD, I still have buttons and knobs - with the cell, I'm just screwed.

Posted by: Hartley at August 13, 2016 10:33 AM | Reply

What is the estimate of DSC prevalence? In any case, a new one is cheap on the boating scale. Make that step 0.

Steps 1 to 4 are one shot things, not that hard. Step 5 isn't so hard either, as long as you can save a list so you don't have to do it every time with a crummy interface.

And those who think marine VHF is CB radio should get a CB radio.

Posted by: norse in reply to Hartley at August 13, 2016 12:31 PM | Reply

Hi Norse,

I have no idea what the prevalence of DSC is - maybe Ben knows, but I suspect that hard data might be difficult to come up with. It should be possible to analyze boats that are being bought & sold (tho most ads just say "VHF radio") but for the boats that are just "out there", it would be hard to know.

"Not that hard" - absolutely true -- for you and me, because we know what DSC is and how it works - but for the guy who thought that Icom's trivial update was affecting the ability of his installer to make his AIS work with his chartplotter, I suspect it's a real challenge.

Step 5 IS a problem - I tried to obtain my MMSI from my DSC radio a bit ago, and it wasn't particularly easy (GX1600) though I eventually found it - why not put in in a corner of the home screen?
I also know how to find out your MMSI, presuming you have your AIS on & running - but if all I know is your boat name and general location, it could take me quite a while to puzzle it out if there are any significant number of AIS stations around you. Yes, the answer is to obtain all my buddy MMSIs and pre-program them - but how many folks take the time & effort to do so? Heck, how many folks could tell you their MMSI without looking it up?
Speaking of programming, I have been amazed at how many AISs we've seen that were mis-programmed - both Class B and Class A. I saw a superyacht in Ft. Lauderdale that was supposedly 35 feet long and 158 feet wide!

Over the last 13 months, we've traveled several thousand miles of US coastline, with channel 16 turned on for most of it - and the percentage of folks who have VERY marginal radio operating skills is disturbingly high - but at least they HAVE a VHF radio aboard. Even the USCG watchstanders have trouble making it work in some places (yes, I know the voice on the USCG radio is often the least experienced person, at least until something urgent comes up). As someone who has been training radio operators for a loooong time, this is annoying!

Down in Mexico, we ran into several olde tymers who were accustomed to using channel 70 to chit-chat on -- they were really annoyed that their buddys with newer radios couldn't follow them over there! I've even heard folks in SoCal try to go to channel 70, though that was less common. It also seems that the vast majority of private boaters have no idea which channels are legal to operate on outside of 16 & 9. Folks who get used to operating on channel 17 and 18 out in the boondocks sometimes get a very rude reception when they try it in a busy commercial port :)

Posted by: Hartley at August 14, 2016 10:49 AM | Reply

Your points re step 5 are good. I hadn't thought of it that way. Even so, boats travelling together for days weeks or even more could find time while they are together to make a list of their MMSI numbers. It seems that these buddy boats have a need to call each other many times per day, and boats not travelling together rarely have a need to call anyone.

Posted by: norse in reply to Hartley at August 15, 2016 2:01 AM | Reply

One other DSC aggravation involves handheld VHF radios. I bought a Horizon HX870 last year, because it had a raft of very nice features. However, I was not sure which MMSI I should program into it. The talk on the web was completely confusing - some said to ask for a separate MMSI from the FCC, some said to use the boat MMSI, and some said that the Coast Guard and FCC were talking about this and trying to figure out what to do. Two very competent and prominent boating publications said that I should explain everything to the FCC when I renewed my license, and see what they said.

So I did not enter an MMSI number into the handheld and waited until it was time to renew my license this year, beause I am cheap and did not want to have to pay another $150 for a license for the handheld. I wrote a long letter to the FCC explaining that I planned to use the handheld (1) on my main boat, (2) on my dinghy to call my main boat and maybe other boats, (3) possibly on other boats, and (4) from my liferaft, if I ever needed to abandon ship. (I did not say that I would use it from shore to call the main boat.) I explained that the MMSI would be attached to my EPIRB registration, which describes my main boat (for SAR purposes), but has nothing about my dinghy, so I was concerned that if anything happened, the CG would not know to look for a big sailboat OR a 10 ft dinghy OR a yellow liferaft.

I asked them what I should do about the MMSI number for the handheld VHF.

The response I got was to program the main boat MMSI into the VHF. They will not issue a separate MMSI for a VHF handheld radio. At least, this is what I was told.

So, I will do this and then see whether my main boat VHF will respond to a MMSI call from the handheld. And vice-versa. If it doesn't then I will file some sort of complaint with the FCC and the CG, and ask them to pay the cost of re-programming the unit. (with no hope of actually getting anything from them) Hopefully I will never get to test the EPIRB SAR function.

Sometimes, as I consider the state of DSC VHF radios, I wonder whether anyone on the various radio committees who thought up (not designed) this system has ever actually used a VHF radio on a boat to talk to other boats. It is as if the specs were designed by bureaucrats and engineers (I am a former member of both of these classes) who had no idea what they were doing or how they would be used. Then there was the ersatz SC-101 standard that provided some DSC capability, but was not quite compliant.

Posted by: rxc at August 15, 2016 10:19 AM | Reply

Hello all

Revision 14 of the DSC spec was approved about 6-8 months ago.

493-14 is available at:

https://www.itu.int/rec/R-REC-M.493

The big change is that a GPS receiver is made mandatory for Class H (handheld), D (fixed VHF) and E (fixed HF).

Re Hand Held MMSIs. This MUST be different to your boat's main MMSI.

A hand held MMSI takes the form of:

8MIDXXXXX

Regards
Glenn Dunstan
www.gmdss.info

Posted by: Glenn Dunstan at August 15, 2016 7:14 PM | Reply

No "MUST" about it in the USA, Glenn. The USCG explains the somewhat odd situation thusly:

"Obtaining MMSIs for DSC-equipped VHF Handhelds

A handheld VHF transceiver with DSC and an integral global navigation satellite system (e.g. GPS) not intended for dedicated use on a particular ship (e.g. a diver’s radio) should be assigned a unique 9-digit number in the format 8MIDxxxx. While currently means do not exist within the U.S. to assign such identities, the Coast Guard has been in discussions with the Federal communications Commission and others on implementing them.

In the interim, VHF handhelds used in the United States should use the MMSI assigned to the ship to which the handheld is primarily associated, even if another radio on that ship uses the same MMSI..."

http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtMmsi#Union

rxc, I have handheld and fixed VHFs with the same MMSI and they can make DSC calls to eachother. They also both ring on DSC call from another party.

Obviously there should be a system whereby an individual can get an MMSI for a radio not associated with one particular boat, but in the meantime you can get a BoatUS MMSI for even a tender, as long as it has a state registration #.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Glenn Dunstan at August 15, 2016 7:30 PM | Reply

Hello Ben

The USCG and the FCC are in breach of the international radio regs.

DSC identities are defined in ITU-R M.585-7. Here:

https://www.itu.int/rec/R-REC-M.585/en

This was approved last year.

The whole reason we amended 585 for handhelds was to create a unique ID, so that SAR responders know what kind of vessel is sending the DSC alert - this allows them to tailor their response accordingly...

I just shake my head....

:-)

Rgds
Glenn

Posted by: Glenn Dunstan at August 15, 2016 7:39 PM | Reply

Ben,

Thanks for re-assuring me that I will be able to use the handheld to call the main ship with the same MMSI number. It was one of the main reasons I bought a new handheld with DSC.

The “curious” explanation by the CG sounds very familiar to this former Federal bureaucrat. I bet that the people who represented the US in the design and approval of the DSC system were not the same people who run the licensing system. (see my comment above) I bet that the design team created some sort of disconnect for this situation (see the CG comment about diver radios, as well) from the legal licensing system, and the lawyers won’t let the bureaucrats fix it quietly. They are probably insisting that the FCC (with the help of the CG) go to the Congress for a fix, and THEY HATE TO GO TO THE CONGRESS FOR THIS SORT OF STUFF. If this were simple, they could do a rulemaking, but this sounds like something that is not amenable to rulemaking. Trust me – these situations are not uncommon, and they usually arise from some unpleasant event which results in hastily written and ill-thought-out legislation “to make sure this never happens again”.

With my luck, the week after I program my handheld, the CG and the FCC will issue a new directive that we all have to get new MMSIs for our handheld units. At our own cost. And we will have to get new FCC licenses, as well.

Oh, and I cannot get a MMSI from BoatUS, because I use the boat in the Bahamas.

C’est la vie!

Have a fun fall boating season!

Posted by: Anonymous at August 15, 2016 8:46 PM | Reply

Glenn, I can understand your frustration, but we need to remember that the ITU "regulations" do NOT have force of law within the United States. While it appears that the US Government is currently outside of an ITU 'Recommendation', no one is committing any sort of "violation".
Having been involved with radio regulation, I can tell you that this is far from an unusual situation - many ITU Recommendations take years (even decades!) to be adopted by some countries, and some countries (who are signatories) simply ignore things they don't like.

The USCG certainly recognizes that this is a problem, but they do not have the regulatory authority in the US to fix it, so they have appealed to the FCC, who do have the authority. The FCC's bureaucrats (as anon so eloquently stated!) are doing the usual bureaucratic kabuki-dance in search of a solution - eventually, they'll get it fixed, probably just in time for it to be obsoleted by a new recommendation from the ITU.

For us USA residents, all we can do is obey the FCC regulations, which DO have "force of law". If we program our handheld DSC radios like the ITU recommends, we could be cited by the FCC - and that's NOT a good thing. For those who live in other countries, you have to obey the laws of the country your boat is registered in.

Posted by: Hartley in reply to Glenn Dunstan at August 16, 2016 9:07 AM | Reply

Thanks for the clarity, Hartley. (And, folks, you should see the radio shack on Hartley's sloop ;-)

Does anyone here have access to the RTCM 10150.0 Standard for VHF-FM Portable Marine Radiotelephone Equipment with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)? Do they favor using a vessel's own MMSI for a handheld that usually travels with that vessel?

Meanwhile they are advocating for easier MMSI replacement in fixed and handheld radios:

http://www.rtcm.org/news/083-2015-SC101-PR.pdf

But for a sense of how slowly things move in this world, check out the minutes of the last GMDSS Task Force meeting:

http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/gmdss/taskForce/TFSR_85.pdf

Posted by: Ben in reply to Hartley at August 16, 2016 9:48 AM | Reply

I first wrote about the ICOM imbroglio with the FCC back in June. See

http://continuouswave.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1064

for more details.

Regarding the registration with the FCC for an MMSI, it now costs $215 to get one. This makes no sense to me. In contrast, if you buy an EPIRB it costs nothing to register it. Why should an FCC-issued MMSI cost $215 and an EPIRB cost nothing?

Posted by: Jim Hebert at August 17, 2016 1:14 PM | Reply

Thanks, Jim. Lots of things don't make sense to me. Like why was a policy for handheld DSC/GPS/VHF radio MMSI's just formulated last year when the handhelds have been available, and popular, since 2008?

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2008/09/standard_horizon_hx850s_first_impressions.html

At any rate, thanks also for "imbroglio"; might be a good boat name ;-)

Posted by: Ben in reply to Jim Hebert at August 18, 2016 8:05 AM | Reply

Does anyone here have access to the RTCM 10150.0 Standard for VHF-FM Portable Marine Radiotelephone Equipment with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)?

Few will, because it is behind a $50 dollar paywall. I will spare you my low opinions of that disgusting practice which makes no sense. You can get it here, and the paragraph description of it is free!

http://www.rtcm.org/Pub-Comms.php
(July 5, 2012)

Posted by: norse in reply to Ben at August 18, 2016 10:45 AM | Reply

Most ICOM DSC radios are shipping again in the USA. In fact, I understand that they shipped 4,000 units in last two weeks.

However, neither the 604 VHF nor the 802 SSB can be updated to meet the DSC requirements demanded by the FCC. That's why they are still shown as "Export Only" at Icom America

http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/marine/ssb/m802/default.aspx

New versions of these radios are expected eventually.

Rumor has it that other brand DSC VHF models do not meet the supposedly confusing DSC spec, so it's possible that we'll see them removed from the US market until fixed.

Posted by: Ben at October 13, 2016 9:22 AM | Reply

Is it possible for a CLASS-D DSC radio to simultaneously comply with both M.493-13 and M.493-14 recommendations? Or, are there elements in the recommendations that are mutually exclusive?

I am thinking of the problem for radio manufacturers who want to sell into the USA market. If the FCC insists that DSC radios sold in the USA comply with the -13 revision, would a radio that was actually intended to comply with the -14 revision be able to pass the FCC's requirements?

Posted by: Jim Hebert at October 14, 2016 10:35 AM | Reply

According to M.585, handhelds can use either MMSI or MI - it is left to the discretion of the administration.

annex 2, section 1, para 4
"The procedure and criteria for assignment and registration of these identities should be left to the administration concerned."

Posted by: Darryl in reply to Glenn Dunstan at October 16, 2016 6:02 PM | Reply

Ben -- I am still baffled by whether my new "under the wire" Icom M604A purchased a couple of months ago is now somehow orphaned and deficient (at least per the FCC). The consent decree that Icom entered into appears to be entirely forward-looking for units sold after the date of the settlement. I have not had any sort of recall notice and indeed it seems that there is no fix for the M604A.

It is an excellent radio that can pick up and send transmissions at or even beyond the theoretical maximum range using a 17' Shakespeare Phase III antenna. I have communicated with other vessels more than 30 miles away. It is the second one that I have had since there was one on my prior boat. Indeed, now I also have a Standard-Horizon GX5500S (also non-compliant?) and elected to make the Icom the primary radio at the main helm, though I have a remote microphone for the S-H there also.

Posted by: Quitsa in reply to Ben at October 17, 2016 2:40 AM | Reply

Quitsa, I don't think that you need to worry about your Icom 604 at all; in fact, it may have increased in value!

The firmware fixes they had to make to other models to satisfy the FCC seem quite minor, especially if you have properly installed the radio with a GPS source (which I bet you have).

If you want to dig deep, lots of info is posted at Continuous Wave, but I don't think its necessary.

http://continuouswave.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1064

Posted by: Ben in reply to Quitsa at October 18, 2016 7:41 AM | Reply

I contacted Icom tech support about the issue. The response was that none of the software changes affect functionality at the user level and confirmed that the M604A is not subject to firmware update nor is it withdrawn permanently for sale in the USA. That last point is open to question since they put the other VHF models back on sale a few weeks ago but not the M604A.

Posted by: Quitsa in reply to Ben at October 18, 2016 11:11 AM | Reply

It was Icom America national sales manager David McLain who told me that the 604 VHF and the 802 SSB can not be updated to meet the FCC requirements and will not be sold in the US again. I don't think it's his fault but it sure seems like Icom has been poor at communicating with customers and dealers about the FCC issue and the shipping halt.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Quitsa at October 18, 2016 11:30 AM | Reply

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