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Technology-A Friend or a Foe to seafarers- GMDSS

Updated: May 15, 2020

Dear All,

In continuing with our topic on technology and seafarers, I think it’s a very huge topic to be covered in a single blog or a couple of blogs, I want to keep my blogs 1 min or 2 mins reads so that you don’t sleep till you complete the blog!

In this post we will talk about GMDSS and what has it done to our(seafarers) life onboard

GMDSS as you all may know is an acronym for global maritime distress and safety system.

In the last post we had talked about communications and GMDSS also has a role to play a major role how ships communicated with its world around automatically.

Before talking about the positive and negative effect GMDSS has had on seafarer’s life, I feel it might be a good idea to understand something generally (don’t worry will not bore you with concepts!) about GMDSS. For Deck officers, you may know about the publication on the bridge called the ALRS (Admiralty list of radio signals) of which the volume 5 deals with GMDSS concept and other details.

Basically there was no catastrophe or a major accident which prompted the birth of GMDSS, however the earlier system of communication in case of an emergency and if the vessel was far from the land was very ineffective and hence IMO thought to bring in some system using satellites for better and efficient communication in case of emergency (SOLAS Chapter IV).

GMDSS broadly performs following functions:

1) Transmit vessel positions and other details to close by ships and to shore station through satellites.

2) Send and receive safety, emergency or distress message to vessels close by and shore stations

3) Receive weather and other information in the vessel’s surrounding area

4) Regular telex and telephony communications

5) And of course it had its own VHF for chatting with nearby vessels and HF for listening to Radio

What changes it made on the ships and for seafarers?

1) First and foremost, change which all remember is the companies removing radio officers from the ships as it was designed to be simple and mostly automatic

2) Morse code communication disappeared for good (some administrations still have exams for it though), I think we still have Aldis lamp where the morse code functionality was there.

3) There were many new equipment's on the bridge-the big GMDSS station with a LCD screen, EPIRB, NAVTEX, SART etc…

4) GMDSS course was required to be done by all deck officers along with their COCs and a GOC was issued.

5) Master took the place of Radio officer or in some ships one of the junior officers-2O/3O for all messaging, Master spends most of his time with GMDSS

Now for the Pros and Cons section for seafarers


1) Calling home is comparatively cheaper and easier however with international roaming SIM cards and Vsat-this doesn’t count as a pro anymore

2) Flexibility on messaging-you need not depend on radio officer to send and receive message

3) The messages, alerts have become instantaneous without any delay

4) You feel more safe with equipment's which can send automatic distress messages even if you do not have the time in an emergency

5) Your emergency gets transmitted very fast to other ships in the vicinity and to Shore for assistance

6) AIS helps us get identity of vessels in close vicinity which is being used for better collision avoidance


1) Manpower reduced, even though this is a pro for the company

2) Deck officers have the additional burden without any additional salary for the same, Initial days there was a GMDSS bonus which was scrapped soon

3) Mater and Junior deck officers have become the post man for the ship

4) Sometimes it also distracts the watch keeper when he is busy sending messages during watch affect the watch quality

The above was a small write up on how GMDSS has changed /affected /effected seafarers lives. In the next post ,we will take another technology disruption which has effected the seafarers life.

Till then Cya!!

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