Captain’s Report by Capt. Peter d’Anjou
- Slimmest handheld marine VHF radio
- Five watts transmit power
- Dual/Tri-Watch scanning function monitors multiple channels
- Built-in GPS with DSC
- Float’n Flash
Next to lifejackets, VHF radios may be the most important and useful safety devices carried on board any vessel. The Icom M93D VHF handheld is portable enough to be carried on the smallest dinghy.
Icom saw the need to integrate a GPS directly into a handheld DSC radio, thus providing small boat owners the same safety capabilities as ships with sophisticated interconnected navigation bridges.
- Dedicated independent receiver channel 70 for DSC
- Programmable soft keys
- Noise cancelling
- Rapid three hour charge - nine hour battery life
- Intuitive menu
- Greyscale LCD with backlight
- MOB position
DSC and How It Works
The U.S. Coast Guard offers a VHF-based safety service to mariners as part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), which was created because of the international Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) treaty. This service, called Digital Selective Calling (DSC), allows mariners to instantly send a formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard or other rescue authority anywhere in the world.
One important aspect of DSC is registration, so rescuers can identify who is calling for help. On ships, the ship itself is registered, but with Icom's M93D radio and other recreational craft, the individual registers, so the handheld radio can be taken anywhere and be identified.
Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) is a unique nine digit number that is assigned to a (Digital Selective Calling) DSC radio or an AIS unit. Similar to a cell phone number, your MMSI number is your unique calling number for DSC radios. The information provided when obtaining a MMSI number is transferred into the U.S. Coast Guard's national distress database for use in emergency situations.
BoatUS has been authorized by both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Coast Guard to assign MMSI numbers only to vessels that meet the following criteria:
- Used for recreation only
- Not required by law to carry a radio
- Do not communicate with or visit foreign ports (i.e. Canada, Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean)
If you do not meet the criteria, you are legally required to obtain a Ship Station License from the FCC. They will issue an MMSI number with a Ship Station License.
MMSI numbers are free for BoatUS Members or $25 for non-members.
Once an MSSI number is acquired, entering it into your Icom handheld DSC radio will ensure all pertinent info is transmitted at the touch of a button.
The Icom M93D VHF handheld comes in a polycarbonate housing with a die cast aluminum chassis and has a liquid crystal display (LCD) in greyscale. It fits nicely in the palm of your hand and weighs only 9.3 oz. The unit is IPX7 Rated, meaning it is waterproof for 30 minutes at 1 meter deep. Since it floats, this may never be a problem.
Icom radios are built to MIL standards, which makes them slightly more expensive than the competition but ensures quality.
This radio supports USA, Canadian and International group channels that can be switched with a simple menu selection. Plan to use this radio with a preset MMSI number, otherwise the unit will prompt for an MSSI to be entered every time it’s turned on. Just hit “clear” twice if you don’t have the number and the DSC features are disabled.
There is some initial setup to be done with the Icom M93D, such as charging the battery, inputting the MSSI number, and setting up defaults such as which channels to monitor, but the intuitive menu interface makes quick work of these even though there are dozens of settings to choose from, and once accomplished makes the daily use of the radio simple and easy to navigate.
The handheld will last nine hours on one charge and it has a three hour rapid-charge feature. The M93D comes with a charge cradle, an AC power plug-in, and a cigarette lighter 12V DC charger – any of which can be used to charge the handheld. The radio does have features such as the backlight on the LCD that can be turned off to save power and extend battery life.
The M93D is light enough that it can be clipped to boardshorts or a lifejacket without being constantly reminded it's there. An optional mike can be attached for boaters who prefer to clip the radio to a belt and set the mike near their collar.
The menu system is fairly intuitive and won't require getting out the manual to change something like the background lighting in the LCD. Simply use the keypad to scroll through to find the function or menu setting needed.
The dual/tri-watch feature allows monitoring two or three channels at once. So monitoring a favorite channel as well as listening for hails and emergency traffic on channel 16 simultaneously is never a problem. When a call is received, the channel transmitting is displayed on the LCD.
Icom, if you're listening, we wish the time displayed under the lat/long showed seconds as well. For sailing races where you need to record your own finish time, it's nice to know the GPS time with seconds resolution.
Along these lines, the unit shows speed in knots, it would be nice to have a menu item that would allow conversion to mph – something we use all the time in our tests.
The embedded GPS technology can mean one less device needed aboard.
Which brings up the subject of why boaters should carry a VHF over a cell phone? Well, the VHF can function offshore out of the range of cell towers, and broadcast to anyone, and in any weather - and there are no service charges or subscriptions. It’s waterproof, floats, and has MOB, DSC and GPS features that prove phones very limited when it comes to boating safety. And don’t forget the DSC feature works anywhere in the world – 911 doesn’t.
Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is activated by pressing and holding the distress button on the back of the radio for three seconds. Position will be automatically transmitted along with details from the MMSI registration. The menu and softkeys can be used to add the specific nature of the distress.
The Float’n Flash feature relies on moisture sensors that trigger the backlight to flash and the unit to beep even when the radio is turned off. We have found the radio flashing in a rainstorm and not just when dropped over the side. The Float’n Flash feature can be manually turned off. If we are wearing the unit and go over the side, Float’n Flash also makes it easier for others to spot you.
The Man-Over-Board (MOB) feature can be activated by selecting MOB from the softkey menu with either a GPS position or a manual position input (when no active GPS signal is available). Navigation back to a MOB position can also be selected by hitting menu after MOB is inputted.
The soft keys provide selection of the 19 top functions and these can be prioritized with presets for tagging favorites such as channels and weather alerts. The lock feature keeps the keys inoperable if accidentally pressed.
Optional Equipment to Consider
- Spare battery
- Additional charge cradle
- External microphone
Each Icom M93D Includes:
- Icom M93D handheld VHF
- AC adapter, BC-123SA
- Battery charger, BC-220
- Battery pack, BP-285
- Cigarette lighter power cable, CP-25H
- Belt clip, MB-133
- Antenna, FA-SC59V
- Hand strap
- Manufacturer three-year warranty
The importance and distinguishing feature of the Icom M93D radio is that it combines three important factors - communication, navigation, and safety - in a single piece of equipment and it is so intuitive to use we barely glanced at the manual before becoming proficient with it.
We believe that a VHF is essential to safety and with all these features packed into a slim handheld, Icom encourages all boaters, regardless of the size of their vessel, to be safe by carrying and relying on the M93D.