Learning how to use a VHF radio isn’t very difficult, but it is extremely important—and it’s just as important that your VHF be DSC active. DSC, which stands for Digital Select Calling, has been a required component on VHF radios for many years. But when that radio gets installed, this capability does you zero good if the radio isn’t wired in with a chartplotter or have GPS built right in. Even then, many people don’t bother to register for a Marine Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number. In this short video, we’ll sketch out the two basic steps to making DSC active on your VHF radio.


Why don’t more people have active DSC on their boats? Many are a bit daunted at the prospect of getting behind the helm station, finding the right wires, and hooking them together. But there’s no danger to this process, and if you hook the wrong ones up, while DSC won’t work you won’t damage anything, either. Google should be able to tell you which wires are which in the first place (just type in your radio manufacturer and model, plus the words ‘nmea data cable’ and go from there). You’ll know you have it correct when Lat/Long numbers or an active GPS icon pops up on your radio’s LCD screen. This icon varies by manufacturer, but all DSC VHFs have some sort of indicator to let you know the radio is receiving the required information.

The visible latitude and longitude on the screen of this VHF tells you that it’s receiving GPS data. As long as this radio has an MMSI number programmed in, you know its DSC function is active.

The visible latitude and longitude on the screen of this VHF tells you that it’s receiving GPS data. As long as this radio has an MMSI number programmed in, you know its DSC function is active.



Some other people may be a bit hindered by the thought of how long it will take to weed through this process, get the MMSI number, and do the programming. But we mean it when we say this is easy. Starting from scratch with no owner’s manual, we recently went through this process on an 18’ Larson and it took a grand total of 75 minutes to seriously boost this boat’s safety margin.

To learn more about VHF radios, check out some of these other articles and videos:

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