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GMDSS: Global Maritime Distress & Safety System

GMDSSThe Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) Handbook, produced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines GMDSS as follows:-
The basic concept of (GMDSS) is that search and rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the immediate vicinity of the ship in distress, will be rapidly alerted to a distress incident so that they can assist in a co-ordinated SAR operation with the minimum delay.

The system also provides for agency and safety communications and the promulgation of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) - navigational and meteorological warnings and forecasts and other urgent safety information to ships.
In other words, every ship is able, irrespective of the area in which it operates, to perform those communication functions which are essential for the safety of the ship itself and of other ships operating in the same area.

GMDSS sea areas serve two purposes:
  1. To describe areas where GMDSS services are available
  2. To define the radio equipment that must be carry.

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Benefits of GMDSS

All Distress and Safety communication will be automated and watch keeping on traditional voice and Morse code frequencies become history.
At the press of a button, a ship can send its identity, position and nature of distress by either satellite or terrestrial communication.
It will then be up to a shore based Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) to alert vessels in the area to go to the aid of the casualty.
This co-ordinating role of the RCC is a new one.

Under the SOLAS 1974 system, ships in the area were required to monitor for distress alerts and then respond directly.
The GMDSS now makes this the responsibility of the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC or Maritime RCC) .

GMDSS also changes the nature of Routine and Safety Radio operation.
These become fully automatic, enabling ship's to deal with all incoming and outgoing ship's radio communication. It is no longer necessary to sail with a specialist radio officer onboard.

Components of GMDSS

Distress button GMDSS consists of several different safety systems based around different communication technologies.
These include:-
  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
  • EPIRBs
  • SARTs
  • VHF, MF and HF Communication.

GMDSS Full operation

Full operation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System came into force on the 1st February 1999.
Under IMO legislation, all passenger vessels had to be fitted with the necessary equipment by 1995, and all vessels over 300grt to be GMDSS equipped by the 1st February deadline.
National administrations are also being encouraged to provide the necessary shore based infrastructure in sufficient time.

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