Rules of the Road: IMO revises radio equipment, polar ops

Apr 13, 2019 by Capt. Jake DesVergers

Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

The International Maritime Organization is a United Nation’s agency  assigned duties to ensure international safety. Tasked with developing standards and regulations for safety at sea and protection of the environment, the IMO meets regularly to push forward an agenda with that ultimate goal. At a series of meetings held by Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications, and Search and Rescue at its headquarters in London, several new requirements were finalized in regard to radio communication equipment.

For those ships and yachts operating in the harsh Arctic and Antarctic areas, the IMO’s Polar Code sets the standards for safe operation. In a recent decision, new testing standards were finalized for equipment that will be regularly used in Sea Areas A4. There are locations above latitude 70 North and below 70 South. The new testing guidance includes recommendations on temperature testing, mechanical shock testing, and how to address ice accretion and battery performance in cold temperatures.

The IMO’s sub-committee also considered the report from the International Telecommunication Union’s Experts Group on maritime radio communication matters. A number of incidents involving equipment interference created a concern for cyber security. The availability of interference-free parts of radio spectrum, dedicated for maritime radio communication and radio navigation purposes, is essential to ensure the safety and security of shipping.

The sub-committee continued its work on a number of key agenda items, including the ongoing work to modernize the Global Maritime Distress and Safety system. The mandatory GMDSS was originally adopted in 1988 to ensure full integration of maritime radio and satellite communications. The system ensures that distress alerts can be generated from anywhere on the world’s oceans. The modernization plan aims to update the provisions for the carriage of certain equipment, including allowing for the incorporation of new satellite communication services. Much of the current Chapter IV in SOLAS requires ships and yachts to carry equipment that was considered obsolete decades ago. This will be a much needed and welcomed change.

On e-navigation matters, the sub-committee’s meeting focused on harmonization and standardization of navigation platforms. This is key for the effective implementation of the e-navigation strategy. The sub-committee planned to further develop the description of various maritime services coordinated by different organizations. Their view is to enhance harmonization and draft guidelines on standardized modes of operation, or S-mode, which will improve interface and the quality of information used by seafarers. Currently, each manufacturer is creating their own product in accordance with their own internal standards. This prevents cross-utilization of equipment.

On search-and-rescue matters, the sub-committee considered recommendations from the latest International Civil Aviation Organization/IMO Joint Working Group. The IMO works closely with ICAO to synchronize aeronautical and maritime search and rescue. The meeting validated a revised training course for those serving as a search-and-rescue mission coordinator.

Among other regular agenda items, the sub-committee also reviewed the proposed new and amended ships’ routing measures, considered updates to Maritime Safety Information-related provisions, and discussed matters relating to the functioning and operation of Long-Range Identification and Tracking.

At a separate meeting of the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction, draft guidelines on the design of mooring arrangements were reviewed. This draft SOLAS regulation also included inspection, maintenance, towing, and mooring arrangements for both seafarers and shoreside personnel.

Safety measures for non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters, not currently covered by the Polar Code, were also on the agenda. The sub-committee considered the first draft set of recommendations on safety measures for fishing vessels of 24m in length and over, as well as pleasure yachts above 300 gross tonnage not engaged in trade, operating in polar waters. Currently, it is the discretion of the flag administration to determine if pleasure yachts are subject to any of the measures listed in the Polar Code.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau ( Comments are welcome below.


About Capt. Jake DesVergers

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or

View all posts by Capt. Jake DesVergers →