Rules of the Road: Who needs LRIT?

Dec 22, 2020 by Capt. Jake DesVergers

As we continue to push through the worldwide pandemic, the desire for recreation and vacation away from the masses has increased exponentially. In the past few months, we have seen many yachts change hands. In the process of those sales, there are a number of items requested by both the seller and buyer. One of the items that has caused some confusion in a few transactions is the requirement for Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT).

The desire for long-range identification and tracking of ships has been on the regulatory agenda since late 2001. It was discussed during the development of the special measures to enhance maritime security adopted by the 2002 Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Conference. 

However, in view of the complexities involved at that time, it was recognized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that it would be practically impossible to complete the work by December 2002. The December deadline date was enacted to include appropriate provisions in the comprehensive maritime security measures that entered into force on July 1, 2004. The most well-known of those security measures is the ISPS Code.

The regulation, found in Chapter V of SOLAS, entered into force on Jan. 1, 2008, and applies to ships constructed on or after Dec. 31, 2008, with a phased-in implementation schedule for ships constructed before Dec. 31, 2008. There is an exemption from this requirement for ships operating exclusively in sea area A1 (approximately 25 miles from the coast), since such ships are already fitted with an Automatic Identification System (AIS). The regulation also identifies which authorities may have access to LRIT information. These include government agencies and coastal states. It is not available to the general public.

The LRIT information ships are required to transmit include the ship’s identity, location and date, and time of the position. There is no interface between LRIT and AIS equipment. They are independent of each other. One of the more important distinctions between the two systems, apart from the obvious one of range, is that, where AIS is an open broadcast system, data derived through LRIT will be available only to the recipients who are entitled to receive such information. Safeguards concerning the confidentiality of this data have been built into the regulatory provisions. SOLAS contracting governments are entitled to receive information about ships navigating within a distance not exceeding 1,000 nautical miles off of their coast.

So, the big question that was raised in those recent vessel transactions is who must have LRIT? The LRIT equipment must be carried by cargo vessels of 300 gross tons or greater engaged on international voyages. By definition, most yachts are used for pleasure only and not engaged in international trade. Private yachts are thus exempt from the requirements of LRIT. This is documented in Chapter I, Regulation 3 of SOLAS.

For those yachts that are engaged in trade, namely commercial yachts, they are considered a cargo ship for regulatory purposes. As such, the LRIT regulations are applicable. This is outlined in Chapter V, Regulation 19.1 of SOLAS. Additionally, cargo vessels over 300 GT (i.e. commercial yachts) are certified to Chapter IV of SOLAS for radiocommunication, including GMDSS. Verification of this status is documented through a Cargo Ship Safety Radio Certificate and Form-R Record of Radio Equipment.  

The type of equipment most commonly installed on commercial yachts fall into two categories: (1) standalone units; and (2) integrated satellite phone units.

For the standalone unit, the LRIT is independent of all other communication systems. It possesses its own power supply and control unit.

For the integrated satellite phone unit, the LRIT tracking is part of the fixed system. As part of an Inmarsat shipboard terminal, the LRIT broadcasts through that equipment, as part of the GMDSS.

To verify the specific type of system installed on board, reference can be made to the Conformance Test Report (CTR). This document is issued by the Authorized Service Provider (ASP) that monitors the broadcast signal. Common trademarked names associated with this service include Pole Star, Fulcrum, and the Woods Hole Group.

Capt. Jake DesVergers serves as chief surveyor for the International Yacht Bureau (IYB), a recognized organization that provides flag-state inspection services to private and commercial yachts on behalf of several flag-state administrations. A deck officer graduate of the US 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 954-596-2728 or Comments on this column are welcome below.