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For international operational purposes the GMDSS system sub divides the World into 4 main geographical Sea

Areas, that
are GMDSS Sea Areas A1, A2, A3 and A4. The communication range of the different types of radio communication
systems necessarily carried on board of SOLAS vessels at sea, substantially defines the geographical boundaries of these
Sea Areas.

The following table includes the information regarding sattelite and radio communication coverage and SOLAS vessel
radio equipment carriage requirements for all GMDSS Sea Areas.

GMDSS Sea Area Geographical sattelite and Radio and Sattelite Automatic and portable
radio communication communication equipment radio equipment
coverage
A1 Within continuous VHF VHF radio DSC and RT 406 MHz EPIRB (Emergency
(Very High Frequency) DSC Position Indicating Radio
(Digital Selective Calling) NAVTEX receiver - Beacon)
coverage from a CRS with Automatic reception of MSI
follow on VHF RT (Radio (Maritime Safety SART (Search And Rescue
Telephony) Information) Radar Transponder)

(about 20 - 30 NM from the VHF handheld radio


coast)
A2 Outside Sea Area A1 MF radio DSC and RT 406 MHz EPIRB

Within continuous MF Plus SART


(Medium Frequency) DSC
coverage from a CRS with The equipment included for VHF handheld radio
follow on MF RT Sea Area A1

(about 100 NM from the


coast)
A3 Outside Sea Areas A1 & A2 HF (High Frequency) radio 406 MHz EPIRB
DSC
Within INMARSAT SART
(International Maritime Or
Satellite Organisation) VHF handheld radio
coverage, that is between 700 INMARSAT Satellite
North and 700 South Communication

Plus

System for reception of MSI


in Sea Area A3 (EGC or
Radio Telex)

Plus

The equipment included for


Sea Areas A1 & A2
A4 Outside Sea Areas A1, A2 & HF radio DSC 406 MHz EPIRB
A3
Plus SART
Above 700 N and below 700 S
The equipment included for VHF handheld radio
Sea Areas A1 & A2
Radio communication coverage and SOLAS vessel radio equipment carriage requirements for all GMDSS Sea Areas

Details of SOLAS vessel radio equipment carriage requirements may be found in ALRS Volume 5.

It can be seen that along a part of the North coast of Africa and a part of the West coast of Portugal there is no GMDSS
Sea Area A1 indicated. This is because the following countries have not supplied operational VHF MRCCs on their
coastlines, they are- Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Portugal and Tunisia. However, it can be seen that all other countries on the
following map have a GMDSS Sea Area A1 bordering their coast, by having established operational VHF MRCCs on
their coastlines.

Map of the Mediterranean - West with GMDSS Sea Areas colour coded A1 (red), A2 (green) and A3 (blue).

The radio equipment that increases safety at sea mentioned above does not include mobile phones, on which still a lot of
people rely at sea. Mobile phones shouldn't be used at sea as a sole means of raising the alarm because of the following
(compared to the VHF radio):

Mobile services are not designed to provide distress communication at sea.


Rescuers cannot pinpoint the position of a casualty using a mobile. Radio equipment not only provides the best
way of contacting the shore based stations or other vessels in an emergency, but also can enable SAR services to
locate the vessel through the radio signal (flares should also be carried to help rescuers locate the craft in case of
emergency).
Mobile phones have very limited battery life.
Other nearby vessels are unable to pick up the signal and assist if needed, because it is a closed communication
system. You are only connected to the number you called. VHF radio communication is an open system, all
vessels in the vicinity equipped with a VHF radio will be able to monitor or take part in the communication.
Mobile network signal strength is unreliable.
The range of a VHF radio signal is normaly much wider.
Depending on injuries, a small mobile may prove difficult to use.
A mobile phone relies on a mobile network (this could be congested or malfunctioning) while a VHF radio is an
independent unit.
A VHF radio is easy to use, also in bad circumstances. Also,it will give a good audio signal and this will allow
several people to listen at the same time to received messages.

The Basic Concept of the GMDSS


The fundamental difference between the old and the new distress system is that the new system is shore
centred/coordinated and moves emphasis from ship to ship alerting to ship to shore alerting. The new system is
quicker, simpler and, most importantly, more efficient and reliable than the old manual Morse Code and
radiotelephone alerting system. GMDSS is specifically designed to automate a ships radio distress alerting
function, and consequently, remove the requirement for manual (human) watch-keeping on distress channels. The
basic concept of the system is that search and rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the immediate
vicinity of the ship in distress, will be rapidly and automatically alerted to a distress situation so that they can assist
in a co-coordinated SAR operation with minimum delay. The system also provides for urgency and safety
communications, and the promulgation of maritime safety information (MSI) including- navigational and
meteorological warnings and forecasts, and other urgent safety information to ships. In other words, every ship,
fitted appropriately for GMDSS, 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.

The Nine Communication Functions of GMDSS


1. Distress alerting Ship to shore The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) as described in
SOLAS Chapter IV defines the first functional requirement as: "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of
transmitting ship-to-shore distess alerts by at least two independent means, each using a different
radiocommunication service". three basic means of transmitting a distress alert: EPIRB Digital Selective Calling
(DSC) INMARSAT

2. Distress alerting Shore to ship "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of receiving shore-to-ship distress
alerts" This function may be fulfilled by either of two means: direct broadcast to vessels from a shore based Rescue
Co-ordination Centre (RCC) using Digital Selective calling using the MF, HF or VHF frequency bands
using a broadcast of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) using either the NAVTEX service or the SafetyNET service.

3. Distress alerting Ship to ship "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting and receiving ship-to-
ship distress alerts". Transmission of ship-to-ship distress alerts can only be accomplished by two methods: by VHF
Channel 16 (Distress, Safety and calling Channel) or VHF Channel 13 (Bridge-to-Bridge communications channel)
by using Digital Selective Calling on either MF, HF or VHF

4. Search and Rescue Co-ordinating Communications "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting
and receiving Search and Rescue Co-ordinating Communications". The purpose of this requirement is to co-
ordinate search and rescue (SAR) communications between all vessels and aircraft that may be involved in the
incident. Voice communications would normally be used, although initially promulgation of information through the
broadcast of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) may be used by a Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) to ascertain
which vessels are in the area of the incident and are in a position to assist. Thus any of the following methods of
communication could be used:
* Transmission/reception of Maritime Safety Information, NAVTEX or SafetyNET
* Voice communications using MF/HF or VHF or Inmarsat

5. On-Scene Communication "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting and receiving On-Scene
Communications". The purpose of this requirement is to co-ordinate search and rescue (SAR) and other
communications between all vessels and aircraft that may be involved at the scene of the incident. Voice
communications using MF/HF or VHF would normally be used.

6. Locating "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting and as required by regulation V/12(g) and (h),
receiving signals for locating".
* RADAR (9GHz) for receiving
* SART(Search and Rescue Radar Transponder) for transmiting

7. Transmission/Reception of Maritime Safety Information "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting
and receiving maritime safety information". * NAVTEX reception by terrestrial communication
* SafetyNET transmission/reception by satellite communication

8. General Radiocommunications "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting and receiving general
radiocommunications to and from shore-based radio systems or networks subject to regulation 15(8)" General
communications may be carried out utilizing the following systems:
* Digital Selective Calling to set up a telephone or telex link on MF/HF or VHF
* The Inmarsat network

9. Bridge-to-Bridge Communications "Every ship, while at sea, shall be capable of transmitting and receiving bridge-
to-bridge communications" Ships would normally use VHF communications to carry out this function. The normal
use of this function would be for port operations and pilotage. Occasionally, for longer range MF/HF or Inmarsat
could be used. The setting up of communications usingMF/HF would be via Digital Selective Calling.