Distress calling frequencies

From Ocean Navigator #106
May/June 2000

The ICOM-M710RT can monitor all 976 ITU voice and data channels and has 160 user-programmable channels. Most marine band SSBs on the market have impressive channel capabilities and can tune across a wide range of frequencies.
   Image Credit: Courtesy ICOM

My question concerns an SSB radio and distress calling. The frequency formerly used for that is 2.182kHz. However, has this frequency now been abandoned by almost all major commercial and other vessels and marine radio stations? My SSB is automatically tuned to that particular frequency. Please tell me how can I locate WLO, WOM, and KMI’s frequencies. And is there any way I can get a list of all places/frequencies I can call on my SSB during emergency? Minay GopenkoNew York, N.Y.Answer: Many radios are programmed to come up on 2,182 kHz (2.182 MHz) when you turn them on. Your owner’s manualif you don’t have one, you should contact the manufacturer of your radio for oneshould cover how to retrieve the various channels that are pre-programmed into your radio. Usually it’s as simple as entering an ITU channel number followed by a press of a button marked enter or RX. Some radios don’t require the “enter” step if the channel is in the 12 MHz band or higher. An example of an ITU channel for the United States Coast Guard would be 424 in the 4 MHz band, or 1205 in the 12 MHz band.

You’re probably asking why are there different bands? Unlike VHF, which is line-of-sight signal propagation, SSB relies on a different method of propagation, either skywave or groundwave, depending on the band involved, to allow you to communicate a variety of distances. A very good discussion of this is located on the web at www.arrl.org/tis/info/pdf/119962.pdf. This was originally published in QST, a ham radio magazine, in November 1999. The same laws of physics apply to marine SSB.

Commercial vessels subject to Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) regulations are now required to have Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) equipment on board. GMDSS-equipped vessels outside U.S. waters are no longer required to maintain radio watch on 2,182 kHz or VHF channel 16. Instead, they rely on what is known as digital selective calling (DSC)-equipped radios to fulfill those requirements.

Vessels inside U.S. waters however, are still required to monitor those channels. But don’t let that give you a false sense of securityit’s possible that emergency calls made on 2,182 kHz won’t be answered.

DSC-equipped VHF radios are available in the U.S. market, and have been for quite some time, but as of this date no DSC-equipped SSB radios are available for recreational vessels in the U.S. market. However, they should be in the near future. This will be a great improvement not only in safety applications but operational convenience as well.

WOO, WOM, and KMI were the stations of AT&T’s High Seas Marine Telephone service that ceased operation last year. There still is one station in the U.S., and a handful outside the U.S., still handling telephone traffic. The U.S. station is one you mentioned, WLO, located in Mobile, Ala. They can be contacted at 334-666-5110, or on the Internet at www.wloradio.com/hfssb.htm.The U.S. Coast Guard has a listing of the channels and a schedule of SSB channels on which it keeps watch located at www.navcen.uscg.mil/marcomms/cgcomms/call.htm. It also has a complete and current list of all marine SSB channels at www.navcen.uscg.mil/marcomms/cgcomms/rtchan.htm. These pages and host of other links for information on GMDSS, DSC, and other radio-related subjects are at www.navcen.uscg.mil/marcomms/.

By Ocean Navigator