Distress and


Short introduction to GMDSS

Ship distress and safety communications entered a new era on 1 February 1999 with the full implementation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) - an integrated communications system using satellite and terrestrial radiocommunications to ensure that no matter where a ship is in distress, aid can be dispatched. This System ensures also the provision of Maritime Safety Information (MSI), both meteorological and navigational information, on a global basis at sea.

The GMDSS was developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the specialized agency of the United Nations with responsibility for ship safety and the prevention of marine pollution, in close co-operation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international organizations, notably the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the COSPAS-SARSAT partners.

The regulations governing the GMDSS are contained in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974. The GMDSS requirements are contained in Chapter IV of SOLAS on Radiocommunications and were adopted in 1988. The GMDSS communications system under SOLAS complements the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR), 1979, which was adopted to develop a global SAR plan.

From 1 February 1999 all passenger vessels and all cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards on international voyages must comply with the GMDSS, and be fitted with all applicable satellite and radiocommunications GMDSS equipment, according to the sea area (or areas) in which the ship operates, for sending and receiving distress alerts and MSI, and for general communications (more). Under the GMDSS requirements, all ships are required to be equipped with Inmarsat and/or NAVTEX receivers, to automatically receive MSI.

At the moment, most fishing vessels and recreational boaters are not required to participate in the GMDSS. But they will find many of the services available useful.

For broadcast purposes, the world's oceans are divided into 16 areas of responsibility, called either Metareas (for meteorological information) or Navareas(for navigational warnings). each the responsibility of a National Meteorological Service (NMS), named Issuing Service. Other NMS may provide some information, as Preparation Services. The Joint WMO/IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology(JCOMM) coordinates the dissemination of warnings and weather and sea bulletins according to a broadcast schedule.