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Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS)

The Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) is a system that was determined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and became fully operational in 1999. The IMO is a United Nations agency that oversees the areas of security and safety in shipping, preventing pollution of the seas by ships, and improving maritime distress and safety communication. The IMO was previously known as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) from its inception in 1948. The name was changed in 1982. The GMDSS is part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

It used to be that communication such as a distress call, as well as safety and rescue efforts, were based on a ship-to-ship model. They are now based on a ship-to-shore model. That means that vessels are required to have certain types of communication and geo-location equipment on board. It also used to be that the types of equipment required was based on a ship’s tonnage. It is now based on where they journey, which are called sea areas. These sea areas are determined by the various governments covered by the treaties.

Some of the specific components of the Global Maritime Distress System include EPIRB, Navtex and Inmarsat. EPIRB stands for Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon. It comprises a search and rescue system that is satellite-based. It was established by Canada, the United States, France and Russia. The radio beacon is generated by a 406 MHz system that is designed to transmit an accurate vessel location and vessel identification to a rescue coordination center.

Navtex is an international system that is automated to be able to distribute maritime warnings, search and rescue notices and weather forecasts and warnings. It uses a small and low-cost printing radio receiver that is installed in the pilot house on a ship or boat. It can check each message as it comes in to see if it was already received earlier.

Inmarsat are satellite systems that are under contract to the International Maritime Satellite Organization (IMSO). The Global Maritime Distress System recognizes different models of ship earth station terminals that are installed on ships.

Other equipment that is part of the GMDSS includes a high frequency radio telephone and telex, and one or more search and rescue radar transponders. The transponders are used in order to be able to find either survival craft or distressed vessels that have put out a distress call by means of a series of dots on the rescuing ship’s radar display.

Read more: GMDSS Simulator & How to send distress call