All the ships to which the 1974 SOLAS Convention, as amended in 1988, applies are required to carry the GMDSS radio equipment, depending on the sea areas in which they operate, prescribed in the Convention (given in annex 1).
One of the basic principles on which the GMDSS carriage requirements is based is (as prescribed in regulation IV/4) a functional requirement to ensure the capability of transmitting ship-to-shore distress alerts by at least two separate and independent means. The capability of performing other communications functions is also required. Regulations IV/7 to IV/11 regulate the specific carriage requirements for ships according to the sea area(s) in which they operate.
Carriage requirements for GMDSS radio equipment can be summarized as follows:
- sea area A1: ships shall carry VHF equipment and a satellite EPIRB;
- sea area A2: ships shall carry VHF and MF equipment and a satellite EPIRB;
- sea area A3: ships shall carry VHF, MF, a satellite EPIRB and either HF or satellite communication equipment;
- sea area A4: ships shall carry VHF, MF and HF equipment and a satellite EPIRB; and
- All ships shall carry equipment for receiving MSI broadcasts.
Details of the equipment to be carried and guidance on installation of equipment is given in COMSAR/ Circ.32 (see annex 7).
Ships which are not required to comply with the 1974 SOLAS Convention are recommended to comply with the guidelines for the participation of non-Convention ships in the GMDSS given in MSC/Circ.803 and resolution MSC.131 (75). Such ships are recommended to carry VHF equipment with DSC and maintain a channel 16 and DSC watch. When operating in high sea areas they are recommended to carry a satellite EPIRB and other radio equipment appropriate to their area of operation. They are also recommended to make provision for reception of maritime safety information. MSC/Circ.803 additionally provides guidance on training for GMDSS operators on non-SOLAS ships.
Fishing vessels are also encouraged to be fitted for the GMDSS. The Cape Town Agreement of 2012 implementing the Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977 introduces a chapter IX on radio communications which is very similar to chapter IV of SOLAS. This Convention applies to larger fishing vessels. For fishing vessels of 24 m or over, GMDSS carriage requirements, which are simplified over those of SOLAS, are included in the FAO/ILO/IMO Code of Safety for Fishermen and Fishing Vessels, 2005. For fishing vessels of 12 m and over, GMDSS guidance is given in the FAO/ ILO/IMO Voluntary Guidelines for the Design, Construction and Equipment of Small Fishing Vessels, 2005.
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