In a port on the coast of the USA on an ocean there is a lot of close-by activity from several U.S. warships, and a fellow was monitoring VHF Marine Band Channel-16 with a DSC radio. Around 2 p.m. his DSC radio receives a DISTRESS ALERT call and sounds an appropriate alert signal. The on-shore radio operator had not previously received a DSC DISTRESS ALERT call, and it took him about half-a-minute to figure out how to silence the alarm and to save the position of the vessel in distress as a waypoint on the radio's built-in mini-chartplotter.
Shortly after that, one of the U.S. warships makes a voice transmission on Channel-16, apparently addressed generally to the vessel in distress. Then another vessel--let's call it BOAT-1, replies to the warship's call. The observer describes this call in reply from BOAT-1 as containing this information:
- "Sorry, it was me, my radio started blaring an alarm and acting weird, so I turned it off and went to a second radio to respond, sorry I don't know what happened, it was an accident."
To this reply the U.S. warship responds that it acknowledges the activation of the distress call was accidental, and according to the fellow recounting this even, that ended their involvement.
Shortly afterwards, a U.S. Coast Guard station begins to call BOAT-1, the vessel that responded to the general call "to the vessel in distress," trying to contact them on Channel 16. Several calls were made, and eventually, after about five minutes passes, BOAT-1 replies to the USCG call. The USCG and BOAT-1 then communicate on Channel 16. The USCG wants to confirm that BOAT-1 was actually the vessel that initiated the DSC DISTRESS ALERT CALL, so it asks the radio operator aboard BOAT-1 to furnish BOAT-1's maritime mobile service identity (MMSI).
BOAT-1 does not know what its MMSI actually is. Next the USCG asks them for their vessel name and a description. BOAT-1 one replies. The USCG then asks BOAT-1 to standby.
According to the listener, about five more minutes pass, until the USCG returns and contacts BOAT-1, informing them that "your vessel name and description do not match what is registered to the MMSI that sent the distress." Next the USCG asks BOAT-1 for its position. Apparently BOAT-1 does know their position.
Five more minutes elapse, and the USCG comes back on Channel-16 calling BOAT-1. They inform BOAT-1 that the position they gave by voice does not match the position that was sent in the DSC DISTRESS ALERT. The USCG has more questions for BOAT-1: "did you press the red button," they ask. BOAT-1 replies that, no, they did not press a red button, and that their radio was "just acting weird and alarming."
Now the situation is getting even stranger. The USCG tells BOAT-1 that apparently they just received a DSC DISTRESS ALERT, they did not send the alert, and by responding to the general call to the vessel in distress on Channel-16 they have thrown a huge diversion into the attempt to contact the real vessel in distress and render some assistance to them. According to the observer, this whole process took about 30-minutes to reach this point of awareness by the USCG, the rescue agency monitoring for distress alert calls.
The observer did not continue to monitor Channel-16 after this point in the saga, so the ultimate outcome is unknown. The situation as described sounds like a ball of confusion, greatly augmented by the knucklehead who announced he was the vessel in distress. Complete unfamiliarity with DSC radio operation is probably rather common. The notion that anyone can buy, install, and operate a DSC radio without any sort of training or certification is bound to produce outcomes like this. Since just about EVERY fixed-mount radio available today IS a DSC radio, the general recreational boat population probably needs some further training in DSC radio operation.