The RYA mandated the use of a pair of hardware radios in each VHF SRC Radio course. Some tutors took this as the end of software simulators in the classroom, but those who thought about the situation soon realised that software holds many key benefits.
The modified hardware is very useful, but it also has many drawbacks. The ideal class setup uses both teaching methods.
Training radios are expensive, some exceedingly expensive. Given the ready availability of PCs in most teaching environments, the software is incredibly good value, allowing more hands-on practice for students at much lower cost
Students who attend a SRC course which does not include use of software must always input a Manual Position before they send distress alerts. There is a risk that they will go away with the idea in their heads that they will have to do this on their own boat, if a distress situation arises. This may be the reason that the Coastguard finds relatively few DSC owners use the DSC if they issue a Mayday.
The software simulator has an in-built GPS, which the student can switch on or off. This way, they learn exactly what data is included in a distress alert automatically, as well as how to cope if the GPS signal is missing.
Students can practice setting up Directory entries and such-like tasks on a single training radio, but must use two sets to do anything with alerts. He/she is usually dependent on another student sending the right type of alert to them, or correctly reporting the result of an alert they have transmitted.
The Simulator opwerates in Standalone mode, where the student has their main radio on screen, plus a condensed version of a remote station, so it is easy for them to practice all the alerts, send and receive, without help from others. They can work at their own pace.
Schools wishing to use simulators connected over a Windows Network can place special order for the Mk3 version.
Any assessor using a hardware radio to teach more than two students cannot expect them to see clearly what he is demonstrating. The hardware is designed for a single operator, and even then often challenges the eyesight.
The PC Simulator permits the use of a much larger image. Even a little netbook can show a larger than life image, while bigger LCD screens, TVs or data projectors can display the radio at a size to suit any group. Again the ability to do everything on one screen - see the sending and receiving ends of the communication - makes life so much easier.
Another major shortcoming of the hardware sets is their limit to Class-D operation. Students can send a Distress Alert and wait .. and wait .. but they will never receive a Distress Acknowledgement. In a Mayday Relay scenario, they cannot determine that the original mayday was not received by a Coastguard, as the classroom radios can never send the Acknowledgement.
The software Simulator has an extra function on the remote radio, allowing response with a proper Distress Acknowledgement. This is not possible with the physical training radios, which are limited to Class-D operation.
Using software Simulators, alongside the mandatory modified hardware radios, has many benefits. Some of these are so important in presenting a full course to the students, that the RYA even considered making it mandatory to have Simulators in addition to hardware sets.