The Communications Guide
Published 14 Nov 2019
In an era of almost instantaneous communications, few modern ship operators or others connected with shipping will fully appreciate the limitations that existed even 20 years ago before the Global Maritime Distress & Safety System (GMDSS) altered forever the field of marine communications. However, the basics of regulation were set down much earlier than that and still form the core framework of modern regulations. GMDSS is a subject on its own and is covered elsewhere in this guide.
Communications equipment and services on board vessels are internationally regulated under three separate areas: Carriage requirements are covered by SOLAS; the regulations governing the use of maritime radio as detailed in the International Radio Regulations, set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); and operator certification is covered by STCW. To these can be added any regulation imposed by the flag state or restrictions imposed by a port state when a vessel is in territorial waters.
The carriage requirements are in force as far as SOLAS is concerned purely for safety, search and rescue and security requirements. The commercial aspect of communications is for the shipowner to decide, providing the rules for licensing and accounting are complied with. Seafarers do not have an automatic right to have access to communications, which remains at the shipowner’s discretion and company welfare philosophy.
There is a very good reason why an international body such as the ITU is needed to govern the use of communications equipment. The spectrum in which radio communications operate is limited and with more and more demands made on it by increasing use of technologies such as mobile telephones, wi-fi, radio-controlled devices, GPS, radio and TV, the possibility for interference grows as well.