Methods of distress notification
A distress call or signal or other emergency information from another vessel at sea, either directly or by relay.
A distress call or message from aircraft. This will normally occur by relay from an aircraft, RCC or CRS.
The following immediate action should be taken by any ship receiving a distress message:
acknowledge receipt of a message (for DSC acknowledgement see flow charts)
gather the following information from the craft in distress if possible:
position of distressed craft
distressed craft’s identity, call sign, and name
number of persons on board
nature of the distress or casualty
type of assistance required
number of victims, if any
distressed craft’s course and speed
type of craft, and cargo carried
any other pertinent information that might facilitate the rescue
maintain a continuous watch on the following international frequencies, if equipped to do so:
– 2,182 kHz (radiotelephony)
– 156.8 MHz FM (channel 16, radiotelephony) for vessel distress
– 121.5 MHz AM (radiotelephony) for aircraft distress or beacon distress signals.
Vessels subject to the SOLAS Convention must comply with applicable equipment carriage and monitoring requirements
SOLAS communications equipment is referred to as Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) equipment and includes:
Inmarsat ship earth stations
VHF, MF, and HF digital selective calling (DSC) radios
maritime safety information receivers like NAVTEX and SafetyNET
hand-held VHF equipment
emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs)
search and rescue radar transponders (SARTs)
AIS search and rescue transmitters (AIS–SARTs).
any vessel carrying GMDSS-compatible equipment should use it as intended and must be prepared at all times to receive distress alerts with it.
Vessels should maintain communications with the distressed craft while advising an RCC or CRS of the situation.
The following information should be communicated to the distressed craft:
own vessel’s identity, call sign, and name
own vessel’s position
own vessel’s speed and the estimated time of arrival (ETA) to distressed craft site
distressed craft’s true bearing and distance from the ship.
Use all available means to remain aware of the location of distressed craft (such as radar plotting, chart plots, automatic identification system (AIS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)).
When in close proximity, post extra look-outs to keep the distressed craft insight.
The ship or a CRS coordinating distress traffic should establish contact with an RCC and pass on all available information, updating as necessary.
Proceeding to the area of distress
Establish a traffic coordinating system among vessels proceeding to the same area of distress.
Maintain, if possible, AIS data and active radar plots on vessels in the general vicinity.
Estimate the ETAs to the distress site of other assisting vessels.
Assess the distress situation to prepare for operations on-scene.
A vessel en route to assist a distressed craft should prepare for possible SAR action on the scene, including the possible need to recover people from survival craft or from the water. See “Recovery of survivors by assisting vessels” later in this section.
Masters of vessels proceeding to assist should assess the risks they may encounter on the scene, including the risks such as those associated with leaking cargo, etc. Information should be sought as necessary from the distressed craft and/or from the RCC.
A vessel en route to assist a distressed craft should have the following equipment ready for use if possible:
Life-saving and rescue equipment:
specialized recovery equipment
portable VHF radios for communication with the ship and boats deployed
non-sparking boat hooks or grappling hooks
copies of the International Code of Signals
radio equipment operating on MF/HF and/or VHF/UHF and capable of communicating with the RCC and rescue facilities, and with a facility for direction finding (DF)
supplies and survival equipment, as required
portable ejector pumps
bailers and oars
flare pistol with colour-coded signal flares
buoyant VHF/UHF marker beacons
flame and smoke floats
Preparations for medical assistance, including:
medical supplies and medicines
A crane or other lifting equipment on either side of the ship, fitted with a recovery device.
The line running from bow to stern at the water’s edge on both sides for boats and craft to secure alongside.
On the lowest weather deck, pilot ladders and manropes to assist survivors boarding the vessel.
The vessel’s lifeboats are ready for use as a boarding station.
Line-throwing apparatus ready for making the connection with either ship in distress or survival craft.
Floodlights are set at appropriate locations if recovery at night.
Vessels not assisting
The master deciding not to proceed to the scene of distress due to sailing time involved and in the knowledge that a rescue operation is underway should:
Make an appropriate entry in the ship’s logbook.
If the master had previously acknowledged and responded to the alert, report the decision not to proceed to the SAR service concerned.
Consider reports unnecessary if no contact has been made with the SAR service.
Reconsider the decision not to proceed nor report to the SAR service when a vessel in distress is far from land or in an area where the density of shipping is low.