An octogenarian PBO reader asks if he and his wife should give up boating...

Don’t give up

My wife and I are well into our 80s but still enjoy pottering around the Medway estuary in our 20ft (6.1m) motor cruiser Heron.

However, my worry is that if I were to be taken ill during one of these trips my wife, who is partly disabled, would not be able to call for any help. We have an ordinary VHF radio, but she would not be able to use this.

Is there a device I could fit that would only require a button to press, that would give our position and summon help?

I have been a regular reader of PBO for many years, but am now wondering if it’s time we gave up boating.

Kenneth Aldous,

Rochester, Kent

PBO EDITOR DAVID PUGH REPLIES: Don’t give up – the very thing you require does exist.

If you were to replace your existing VHF radio with a newer one with a DSC (Digital Selective Calling) facility, the unit would have an emergency button.

If pressed (usually a long press), this will send a digital messag by VHF which the coastguard can decode to find your boat’s identity and position – enough information to organise a search.

This facility is of course limited to VHF range, so about 10 miles offshore, but it sounds like that would cover your sailing area.

There is more information about DSC VHF at this website:

DSC VHF radios are now standard – it’s impossible to buy a fixed unit without DSC these days.

Prices vary, but start from around £100 for the budget models from Cobra and Standard Horizon, and £150 for a brand such as Icom.

You will need to update your VHF licence if you get a DSC radio, as Ofcom will need to issue you with a registration number for your boat (called MMSI).

This is free – you can do it online, by phone or post – details are to be found here:

I hope you continue to enjoy happy boating.

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