The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System is the technical, operational and administrative structure for maritime distress and safety communications worldwide. It was established in 1988 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which adopted a revised text of Chapter IV of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, (SOLAS) – dealing with Radio communications – and was implemented globally between 1992 and 1997. The GMDSS establishes the radio communications equipment that ships are required to carry, how this equipment shall be maintained and how it is used, and provides the context within which governments should establish the appropriate shore-based facilities to support GMDSS communications.

Basic concept of the GMDSS

In the days since the very first radio equipment was used at sea, most famously in the sending of a distress message from the Titanic, vessels in distress relied almost exclusively on their ability to alert other ships in order to obtain assistance. The GMDSS, for the first time, changed this procedure and established a new fundamental principle that a ship in distress should send its alert to a shore, which would then accept the responsibility of co-ordinating the necessary rescue efforts. Thus the GMDSS became inextricably linked with the parallel implementation of the International Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention) and the development of shore facilities within the structure of the World-Wide SAR Plan. In addition to improving the capability of ships to declare their distress and receive assistance co-ordinated from the shore, the GMDSS also provided for the broadcast of essential safety-related information – Maritime Safety Information  (MSI) – which could be received automatically on board ships at sea and would offer ships the chance to navigate more safely on a routine basis.

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