How Do I Test the Red Distress Button on My VHF? - 06/11/2018
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This DSC-enabled Standard Horizon Matrix GX2000 is equipped with the distress button behind the red door. Don’t ever press it unless help is needed, and that includes testing the device.

One reader saw our recent article on programming a VHF with an MMSI number, and asked us, “I understand the distress button on my VHF and have my MMSI number in my VHF. But how do I test the distress call system?” To test, DO NOT PUSH the red button.

The Coast Guard has set up a system where you can test your DSC-enabled VHF to make sure it is set up properly and in good working order. Again, whatever you do, don’t push the red button.

We should point out that the Coast Guard warns:

Under no circumstances shall a DSC distress alert be sent to test a VHF radio. It is a violation of the rules and can result in heavy fines.

Here’s what the Coast Guard recommends: For VHF DSC radios equipped with the Test Call feature, test transmissions should be made to the U.S. Coast Guard MMSI 003669999 to receive an automated VHF DSC test response. You must use the “Test Call” category of your radio because “Individual” category calls to this address will not receive an automated response. For older radios not having a test call capability, testing can only be performed by using a routine individual call to their Maritime Mobile Service Indentity (MMSI).

Consult your VHF owner’s manual on how to do it, then key in a friend’s MMSI number (maybe the dock master at your marina can help, though he’s not obligated to perform this service), and place a call via the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) feature. When you do that, your GPS coordinates will also show up on his VHF. If that works, the distress button will function when needed.

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