Just before Hurricane Sandy, haulout, and winterization made my fall sailing a distant memory, I had a very disappointing experience with TowBoat US. It had been a long time since I had done a radio check, and the automated checks from SeaTow are not possible from my marina because their nearest stations are 20-30 miles away. But we have nearby TowBoat US stations, so I decided to try their service, especially since I pay $125/year for their towing service. While on the boat, I pulled up this press release
on my cell phone.
So, following their directions exactly, I called their local number on my cell phone to tell them that I wanted to do a DSC radio check. The phone rep said "huh?" and when I explained more fully, she connected me to a guy on one of their tow boats. He told me he could do a verbal check, but he could not take DSC calls because they don't have any of their DSC radios connected to GPS. I explained that BoatUS had issued a press release saying they offered DSC checks on all their tow boats, and he tried his best to sound too busy to bother with me. I told him that I thought it might be possible for him to receive incoming DSC calls even though his GPS is not connected to his radio, and he insisted it isn't possible. This claim surprises me, since the radio shouldn't need to know its own position to receive the other boat's incoming digital GPS coordinates, but I don't know for sure either. (Obviously, GPS needs to be connected to DSC to automatically send out your boat's coordinates to other boats.)
This guy actually had the nerve to ask me why it was so important for him to receive DSC signals. I told him that if I ever had an emergency, the red distress button would send out my exact GPS coordinates automatically. Then he asked, "why wouldn't you just read the coordinates to me over the radio?" Incredulous, I told him that if I had an emergency situation, the last thing I want to do is have to read off a bunch of numbers, especially when DSC can automatically send them instantaneously and accurately while I attend to injured passengers or other critical items.
I find this especially ironic, since BoatUS has been trumpeting the importance of connecting GPS to DSC radios, such as this article
. Here's a quote from that article:
The DSC operating mode that is a feature of all fixed-mount marine radios built since 1999 can, with the push of a single button, send out an automatic distress call to the Coast Guard's Rescue 21 system as well as to all DSC-equipped radios on vessels within your transmission range. That transmission can include your exact position, provided you have connected the radio to your onboard GPS. Unfortunately, as of 2011 the Coast Guard estimates that 90 percent of boats have not made this connection. The message here is that if you have a DSC radio and a GPS on board and they are not connected to each other, making that essential connection should be your highest priority.
Too bad TowBoatUS does not follow its own advice! And if you ever have an emergency and press the red "distress" button, don't count on TowBoatUS answering your call directly. You'll have to hope that USCG picks it up and relays your coordinates for you.