It is more than 30 years since the GMDSS was developed and since then there have been significant changes to the communications systems used by ships. Therefore it is not surprising that an update and revision of the system was much needed.

The new revised GMDSS is not on the same scale as the fundamental change that occurred previously in the 1990s, but it has necessitated a rewriting of a whole chapter of SOLAS and amendments to a number of others. In some ways this is a sensible thing since it brings together regulations on communications that have been diffused through SOLAS chapters.

From an operational viewpoint, it is the 11 revised performance standards for services and equipment that will need to be looked at most carefully. Some of these may require older equipment to be replaced on existing ships and will apply to new builds from 1st January 2024.

These revised performance standards will be promulgated in new IMO resolutions shortly. They have not yet been published (as of 17 June 2022) but the resolution numbers and texts are known having been agreed at MSC 104 and adopted at MSC 105. The full list is detailed below with the new resolution titles, the resolution they are superseding and a brief note on the main changes.

RESOLUTION MSC.507(105) – SYSTEM PERFORMANCE STANDARD FOR THE PROMULGATION AND COORDINATION OF MARITIME SAFETY INFORMATION USING HIGH-FREQUENCY NARROW-BAND DIRECT-PRINTING

This replaces resolution A.699(17) and should be read in conjunction with new Resolution MSC.508(105).

The main thrust of this is directed at flag and port states planning to broadcast safety information on HF and seeking approval from the IMO for the broadcast schedules.

 RESOLUTION MSC.508(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR THE RECEPTION OF MARITIME SAFETY INFORMATION AND SEARCH AND RESCUE RELATED INFORMATION BY MF (NAVTEX) AND HF

This amends or replaces resolution A.525(13), MSC.148(77), MSC 148(77) as amended, Resolution A.700(17).

It sets new standards for NAVTEX equipment that should comply also with the requirements set out in resolutions A.694(17) and MSC.191(79).

There is not necessarily a mandatory requirement to replace existing equipment although individual flag states can do this. The resolution recommends flag states to ensure that NAVTEX receiver equipment:

  •   if installed on or after 1 January 2024, conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to the new resolution.
  •   if installed on or after 1 July 2019, but before [1 January 2024], conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to resolution MSC.148(77), as amended.
  •   if installed on or after 1 July 2005, but before 1 July 2019, conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to resolution MSC.148(77).
  •   if installed before 1 July 2005, conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to resolution A.525(13).

It also recommends that equipment for the reception of NBDP broadcasts of navigational and meteorological warnings and urgent information to ships by HF if installed on or after 1 January 2024 conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to the present resolution. if installed before [1 January 2024], conforms to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to resolution A.700(17).

 RESOLUTION MSC.509(105) – PROVISION OF RADIO SERVICES FOR THE GLOBAL MARITIME DISTRESS AND SAFETY SYSTEM (GMDSS)

Replaces A.801(19). As with MSC.507(105) above, this new resolution is aimed at administrations rather than shipping companies and deals with provision of services in different sea areas. More specifically it deals with the establishment of Coast Stations providing DSC (Digital Selective Calling) services and covers basic principles, criteria and availability.

 RESOLUTION MSC.510(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR SEARCH AND RESCUE RADAR TRANSPONDERS

Supersedes resolutions A.530(13) and A.802(19), as amended.

It sets new standards for Search and Rescue Transponders (SARTs).

 RESOLUTION MSC.511(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR SHIPBORNE VHF RADIO INSTALLATIONS CAPABLE OF VOICE COMMUNICATION AND DIGITAL SELECTIVE CALLING

Replaces Resolution A.803(19).

Again, this updates the performance standard for equipment, in this case VHF installations used for voice and DSC specified in the GMDSS requirements as opposed to VHF for general use on board vessels.

It will apply to new vessels from 1 January 2024, but existing vessels can continue to use current equipment if permitted by the flag state.

RESOLUTION MSC.512(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR SHIPBORNE MF AND MF/HF RADIO INSTALLATIONS CAPABLE OF VOICE COMMUNICATION, DIGITAL SELECTIVE CALLING AND RECEPTION OF MARITIME SAFETY INFORMATION AND SEARCH AND RESCUE RELATED INFORMATION

Replaces Resolutions A.804(19), as amended, and A.806(19), as amended

As with the previous new resolution, this updates the performance standard for equipment for installations used for voice and DSC specified in the GMDSS requirements.

 It will apply to new vessels from 1 January 2024, but existing vessels can continue to use current equipment if permitted by the flag state.

RESOLUTION MSC.513(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR INMARSAT-C SHIP EARTH STATIONS CAPABLE OF TRANSMITTING AND RECEIVING DIRECT-PRINTING COMMUNICATIONS

Replaces Resolution A.807(19), as amended.

This new resolution updates the performance standard for equipment for installations specified in the GMDSS requirements.

It will apply to new vessels from 1 January 2024, but existing vessels can continue to use current equipment if permitted by the flag state.

Any new equipment will need to be type-approved by Inmarsat and since Inmarsat no longer has a monopoly on GMDSS provision, not all ships will be obliged to carry an Inmarsat C receiver for GMDSS purposes.

RESOLUTION MSC.514(105) – GUIDELINES FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF FALSE DISTRESS ALERTS

Supersedes resolution A.814(19).

This new resolution does not cover any specific piece of GMDSS equipment but is guidance for eliminating false distress signals which do occur on a regular basis. Flag states are encouraged to disseminate the information and also to consider establishing and enforcing national measures to prosecute repeat offenders.

While there is no new requirement for equipment, the new guidelines should be incorporated in appropriate procedures in a company ISM System.

 RESOLUTION MSC.515(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR SURVIVAL CRAFT PORTABLE TWO-WAY VHF RADIOTELEPHONE APPARATUS

Supersedes resolutions A.762(18), A.809(19) and MSC.149(77).

The performance standards for survival craft VHF sets have been updated regularly over time. This new resolution is a continuation of that trend and is intended to ensure functionality of equipment meant to be used only in emergency situations. The equipment should always be inspected at regular intervals and maintained in a serviceable condition.

There is no need to replace equipment on existing ships but any new equipment installed after 1 January 2024 must comply with the latest standard.

Equipment installed between 1 July 2005 and 1 January 2024 should conform to performance standards not inferior to those specified in the annex to resolution MSC.149(77). Equipment installed from 23 November 1996 up to 1 July 200 should, conform to performance standards not inferior to those specified in annex 1 to resolution A.809(19) any equipment installed earlier is subject to the standards specified in annex 1 to resolution A.762(18).

RESOLUTION MSC.516(105) – AMENDMENTS TO THE PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR RADIOCOMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT (RESOLUTION MSC.80(70))

These are very minor changes applying to equipment installed aft 1 January 2024 and used for two-way on-scene radiocommunications for search and rescue purposes using aeronautical frequencies 121.5 MHz and 123.1 MHz.

One change refers to using a colour for the equipment distinguishing it from other portable equipment, while the other incorporates a word change saying ‘Unless otherwise stated, the equipment should comply with the applicable requirements of volume III, part II, chapter 2 of annex 10 to the ICAO Convention.

RESOLUTION MSC.517(105) – PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR A SHIPBORNE INTEGRATED COMMUNICATION SYSTEM (ICS) WHEN USED IN THE GLOBAL MARITIME DISTRESS AND SAFETY SYSTEM (GMDSS)

Supersedes resolution A.811(19) and applies to a shipborne integrated communication system installed after 1 January 2024 either to a new vessel or as a replacement on an existing vessel.

The performance standards cover the requirements for hardware, software and documentation and include aspects such as software and firmware maintenance, malfunction and restoration interfacing, and documentation among others.

 Where the resolutions apply to new equipment, it will be for manufacturers to ensure that the equipment meets the requirements and has appropriate type approval. For ship operators, the changes will mean that any replacement equipment meets the new resolutions and can properly interface with other elements of GMDSS that may not be replaced.

Where new elements are added to the GMDSS system, there will be related changes in training needs and in the STCW requirements.

At the moment, the new resolutions, although approved, are more than a year away from taking effect. This should give ship operators sufficient time to analyse what is needed and to investigate the market for new equipment. If current equipment appears to be near end of life, it can safely be replaced with equipment meeting current requirements and should not have to be replaced after 1 January 2024.

Manufacturers of equipment will likely be dropping any lines that do not meet the new standards and that could lead to shortages of equipment in the run up to the 1 January 2024. That is especially likely given the restricted supply of electronic components at this moment in time.

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