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January 29, 2009
Who Will Be Listening When You Call (And What Will You SEE When You Look?)

Rumors are a lousy way to communicate. Totally UNTRUE rumors about changes in Coast Guard monitoring of VHF channel 16 are becoming mixed with the FACT that the world-wide satellite based 121.5 MHz beacon tracking system is being discontinued and then, for good measure, confused with the switch from analog to digital terrestrial TV transmission. The facts in each case are simple and totally non-threatening.

First, VHF radio calls on channel 16 will continue to be monitored by the US Coast Guard, all ships, commercial vessels, your fellow boaters, shore stations and anyone who has been listening and responding to voice calls on VHF channel 16. You can enhance the value of your boat's VHF radio by obtaining your own MMSI (the FREE number you need to enter into your VHF/DSC radio in order to make its digital calling features work). Do that and connect the radio to a GPS and you will have the best, most effective marine communication system on the water.

If you still have an operational 121.5 / 243 MHz EPIRB you can keep it and if you turn it on in an attempt to obtain help it may work. If an overflying aircraft happens to hear its distinctive sound on the civilian emergency frequency (121.5 MHz) or a military plane hears your beacon's signal on 243.0 MHz (the military distress frequency) they MAY tell someone about your signal. HOWEVER the satellites of the world girdling COSPASS-SARSAT system will no longer be listening for your beacon. The signal was never intended to provide the level of emergency response designed into the 406 MHz beacon system. The 121.5/243.0 signals were too weak. There was no way to uniquely identify the beacon that was transmitting the call for assistance and locating the beacon was a time consuming and imprecise process. To be secure equip with a 406 EPIRB or PLB.

Last, but by no means least, the switch to digital TV transmission. It's simple. If you use your boat's TV at the dock, connected to the marina's cable system you won't know anything has changed. If you use a satellite TV receiver you will see no change. IF you use your TV set when away from the dock, picking up signals using a boat antenna, your TV set will work as well or better than before the change to digital TV broadcasting, PROVIDED your TV set can tune in the new digital signals. But wait (no, this is not a TV commercial, you won't get three for the price of one) if your TV set can't tune-in a digital signal you will have to buy a converter that will make your TV totally digital. The cost of the converter will usually be less than about $50 and you may be able to get a pair of $40 coupons to offset part or all of the cost of two of these converters. If you can replace a light bulb you can connect the TV converter between your boat's existing antenna and the TV set. Everything will work very well out-of-the-box! Note:

You can obtain a free MMSI number by visiting: http://www.boatus.com/mmsi/

Note: 406 EPIRBS may be rented by the week from the BoatU.S. Foundation:
http://www.boatus.com/foundation/epirb/