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The development of GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress And Safety System) for the shipping industry has come a

long way. The GMDSS system was established with an objective to improve distress and safety radio
communications and procedures at sea.

The greatest benefit of the GMDSS equipment is that it vastly reduces the chances of ships disappearing without
a trace, and enables search and rescue (SAR) operations to be launched without delay and directed to the exact
site of a maritime disaster.

Gone are the days when ships were required to have dedicated radio officers to operate radio equipment. With
the implementation of GMDSS every deck officer with a General Operator Certificate (GOC) and license is
entitled to use the GMDSS equipment and make radio communications when needed.

For the GMDSS equipment to function properly and effectively in the event of an emergency, it is critical that
mariners understand its purpose and do the required maintenance on board the vessel to keep it in a working
condition and make the best use of GMDSS equipment.

The daily, weekly and monthly tests of all the GMDSS equipment should be done by every navigating officer
responsible for it without any compromise. We must not forget that it is our only best friend in a distress situation
at sea.

Ships at sea must be capable of performing the nine functional GMDSS requirements. They are:

1. Ship-to-shore distress alerting

2. Shore-to-ship distress alerting
3. Ship-to-ship distress alerting
4. SAR coordination
5. On-scene communications
6. Transmission and receipt of emergency locating signals
7. Transmission and receipt of MSI
8. General radio communications
9. Bridge-to-bridge communications

This can be ensured by testing the GMDSS equipment at regular intervals.

The GMDSS equipment and systems include the VHF DSC/RT, MF/HF DSC/RT, INMARSAT, SART, EPIRB,

Daily Tests On GMDSS Equipment

The proper functioning of the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) facilities shall be tested at least once each day,
without radiation of signals, by the use of the equipments Internal test facility. The daily test checks the internal
connection, transmitting output power and the display. The process can differ from equipment to equipment
based on the make.

The daily test of the FURUNO model of the VHF equipment can be executed as below:

1.At the standby display press the SHIFT key followed by the TEST key. The TEST IN PROGRESS pop up
window appears momentarily and distress alarm both visual and audible occurs.
The display shows the TEST screen. If everything is okay with the set and is functioning properly, the results
show OK as below. However, in some situation or if its a faulty equipment, NG may be displayed. In this case
the daily test should be repeated a couple of times. If the problem persists, it should be immediately brought to
the notice of a shore based service engineer.

2. Press the CANCEL key to stop the alarm. To stop the daily test, press the CANCEL key again.

Daily test also needs to be performed on the MF/HF equipment to ensure it will function properly in the event of

1. Press the [3/TEST] key to start the test. Select the Daily Test by rotating the knob and push to enter. After
several seconds the display shows the test results; OK for normal operation. The audio alarm also sounds after
the test results are displayed and the alarm lamp flashes several times.
2. The CANCEL key should be pressed to quit the test and return to the normal screen.

Batteries providing reserve source of energy should also be checked daily. Mainly the battery ON LOAD and OFF
LOAD voltages are checked by a volt meter connected to the charger.

OFF LOAD: when no equipment are connected, the battery should read 24 V or slightly more.

ON LOAD: switch off the AC power and note the voltage of the battery. Press the PTT on MF/HF transceiver on
a non-distress and idle R/T frequency. Voltage will fall depending upon the load. If the voltage falls more than
10% it indicates that the battery is either weak or not charged fully. In this case batteries should be recharged.
It is also important to check that all printers are in a working condition and there is sufficient supply of paper.
Weekly Tests On GMDSS Equipment
It is necessary to test the proper operation of the DSC facilities at least once a week by means of a test call over
one of the six distress and safety frequencies, when within the communication range of a coast station fitted with
a DSC equipment. A test call to the coast station can be sent in the following ways:


1. Press the [2/DSC] key at the DSC standby screen and then push the [ENTER] knob to open the CALL TYPE

2. Rotate the [ENTER] knob to choose TEST CALL and then push the [ENTER] knob. Push the [ENTER] knob
again to open the COAST ID menu.
3. Using the numeric keys, key in the ID of the coast station ID (seven digits) where you want to send the call
depending upon the area you are navigating in and then push the [ENTER] knob. The coast station ID can be
found from the Admiralty List of Radio Signals Volume 1- Maritime Radio Stations.

4.Now push the [ENTER] knob to open the DSC FREQ menu. (Note that here the PRIORITY is automatically
selected to SAFETY.)

5. Rotate the [ENTER] knob to choose an appropriate frequency and then push the [ENTER] knob.
6.Now press the [CALL] key to send the TEST call to the respective shore station.

After the test call has been sent successfully the acknowledgement is received from the shore station. The audio
alarm sounds on receiving the acknowledgement.
Many a times it often happens that the officer do not receive any acknowledgment from the shore station. In such
cases we often take it for granted that the shore station is not sending the acknowledgement. However, in reality
this might not be the case. The problem could be with our equipment too. To make sure that the MF/HF
equipment is in order, it is better we try sending the test call using other frequencies and to other stations. Even if
then we fail to receive any acknowledgement, a test call can be sent to a passing ship if possible. Instead of
keying the coast ID, key in the MMSI of the passing ship. It is better to call the ship and confirm if they have
received the test call. We can also request them to send us a test call to ensure that the equipment receiving
facility is functioning properly.

It is also recommended that a station to station test takes place using VHF DSC.

1. Press the CALL key. This will open the compose message screen where the call type can be selected. Rotate
the channel knob to select TEST call.
2.Enter the Station ID, in this case the MMSI of your own ship and then press the CALL key for it to be
The audio and visual alarm is generated and test call is received on the other VHF station. Press cancel to
terminate the test call.

Monthly Tests On GMDSS Equipment

EPIRB: The Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon should be examined by carrying out a self test function
without using the satellite system. No emergency signal is transmitted during the self test. During the self test the
battery voltage, output power and frequency is checked. The EPIRB should also be checked for any physical
damage. The expiry date of the battery unit and that of the hydrostatic release unit should be checked. Also
check that the safety clip is properly attached and in place.
To perform the self test on the JOTRON EPIRB:

1. The EPIRB should be removed from the bracket first.

2. The spring loaded switch on top of the EPIRB is then lifted to the TEST position.

A successful test will consist of a series of blinks on the LED test-indicator, followed by a continuous light and a
strobe flash after approximately 15 seconds. The last green led indicates a successful test.

3. After the successful completion of the test the switch is released and the EPIRB is put back into the

SART: The Search and Rescue Transponder is also equipped with a self test mechanism to test the operational
function of the beacon. The SART is tested using the ships X band radar. The test should preferably be done in
open seas to avoid interference on the radar display.

1. Remove the SART from the mounting bracket.

2. The SART should be held by one person in view of the radar scanner. This could be done from the bridge
wings. The SART should then be put on the TEST mode by rotating it to the left to the TESTPREVUE
position for a brief period.
Visual lights operate and bleeps are heard indicating that the SART has been triggered.

3. Simultaneously a person should observe the radar display for the correct pattern. At least 11 concentric
circles appear on the radar display if kept on a 12 M range scale. The distance between two rings is
approximately 0.64 NM.

4. The SART should also be visually inspected for any signs of physical damage. The battery expiry date
should also be noted. The safety clip should be in place.


Each survival craft two way VHF equipment should be tested at least once a month to ensure proper operation in
case of a distress situation. It should be tested on a frequency other than vhf channel 16 (156.8 MHz). The expiry
date of the battery needs to be checked and changed when required.

1. Press the power key to switch on or off.

2. To select a different channel, press the CH key and use the arrow keys to select the required channel. The
selected channel is indicated with channel number and frequency on the screen.

3. Press the PTT (Push to talk) to communicate with another radio telephone to test receive and transmit
functions. One person can stand near the VHF receiver to receive a test call from the handheld radio.
The symbol TX is shown when the PTT is pressed and transmission takes place. The TX indicator indicates that
carrier is produced at the antenna output.

When it receives a signal the symbol RX is indicated on the display.


The Navtex is an equally important GMDSS equipment and is the source of maritime safety information. It is also
equipped with a test function that can test the battery, keyboard, LCD, ROM and RAM. It is a good practice to
test the Navtex and detect error if any. The Furuno model of Navtex can be tested as follows:

1. Press the MENU/ESC key to open the main menu.

2. Now use the navigating arrows to choose SERVICE and then hit ENT. The SERVICE sub menu contains the
TEST option. Use the down arrow key to select TEST and press ENT key. Choose YES and press the ENT key
again. The TEST will start and the results will be displayed on the screen after few seconds.

If the test is successful the results show OK otherwise it will show NG meaning No Good.
It also tests each key for proper functioning.
The Rx test screen shows as follows:
The test results can be printed and filed in the GMDSS log book.

INMARSAT: The INMARSAT is also equipped with a diagnostic test which checks it for proper operation. The
steps to perform a Diagnostic Test on FURUNO INMARSAT are given below;

1. On the keyboard press the F7 key to display the OPTIONS menu.

2. Use the down arrow to open the TEST menu and then select the DIAGNOSTIC TEST. Select YES to begin
the test.
On completion of the test, the results are shown on the screen as below. The ESC key is used to return to the
main menu.
A PV test or Performance Verification test can be performed every month. This test consists of receiving a test
message from an LES (Local Earth Station), transmitting a message to an LES and a distress alert test. The PV
TEST can be opened from the TEST menu under OPTIONS as mentioned above.
The status shows TESTING when the test is in process.

The status changes to IDLE on completion of the PV Test.

The test results can be seen from the option PV Test Result under the TEST menu. The test results can be
printed and logged. BBER denotes the bulletin board error rate. Pass appears for no error. PASS appears for
satisfactory completion of the test.
BATTERY: The battery connections and compartment should also be checked. The level of the electrolyte and
the specific gravity of each cell should be checked and recorded. Sulfation can reduce the specific gravity thereby
reducing the battery capacity. Maintenance free batteries on board however do not require any such checks.
It is recommended every month to visually check all antennas for security of mounting and visible damage to the
cables. The antennas are located on the monkey island. Any deposit of dirt and salt should be removed. It is also
important to check the condition of the aerials and insulators along with the help of an electrical officer. Ensure
that the equipment is switched off and isolated before carrying out any work on the antenna.

GMDSS enables a ship in distress to send an alert using various radio systems. It is therefore important that all
the GMDSS equipment are maintained in a state of readiness and working condition. To achieve this it is
mandatory to perform the daily, weekly and monthly tests. Only then can we ensure the safety of the ship and its