SOLAS, emergencies and communication

SOLAS, emergencies and
Adapted from Skračić,T., „Waypoint”
• Glossary: emergency, mandatory regulations,
non-compliance, fatality, prosecution, fine (n.),
jail sentence, maiden voyage, treaty, lifesaving signals, danger message, grave and
imminent danger, distress signal, respond to,
forecast updates, distress flares, red flare,
orange smoke, downwind, red parachute
rocket, VHF distress and emergency signals,
urgency call.
• SOLAS stands for Safety of Life At Sea. The
SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is
generally regarded as the most important of
all international treaties concerning the safety
of merchant ships. The first version was
adopted in 1914 in response to the sinking of
the liner Titanic on her maiden voyage in April
Since then there have been a number of SOLAS
conventions covering many aspects of safety at sea including:
Construction of vessels, machinery and electrical installations
Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction
Life-saving appliances and arrangements
Radio communications
Safety of navigation including Collision regulations, GMDSS, DSC,
and EPIRB systems
Carriage of cargoes and dangerous goods
Nuclear ships
International Safety Management (ISM) Code
International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS Code)
International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
Some of the mandatory regulations.
• Here are some of the SOLAS regulations relevant to
pleasure vessels under 150 GT:
• Radar reflectors
• If it is possible to fit a radar reflector on your boat then
you should use one.
• Life saving signals
• An illustrated diagram depicting these signals must be
readily available on board. The signals are to be used
by any ship or person in distress, when communicating
with SAR units. It is important that mariners, whether
engaged in commercial or leisure activities, are familiar
with them.
• Danger messages
• All skippers have a duty to report to the coast guard
anything that might be a serious hazard to navigation.
Examples of navigational dangers include dangerous
obstructions, tornadoes, storms, etc.
• Distress signals
• Skippers have an obligation to respond to distress signals
from any source and to assist as best they can. If the vessel
receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special
circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or
unnecessary to proceed to the assistance of the persons in
distress, the master / skipper must inform the appropriate
search and rescue service.
• Distress signals – misuse
• The use of a signal for anything other than an
emergency is prohibited. Distress signals have a life
saving role and should not be misused as this could put
your own or someone else's life at risk.
• Voyage / Passage planning
• All mariners are expected to make a careful assessment
of any proposed voyage taking into account all dangers
to navigation, weather forecasts, tidal predictions and
other relevant factors including the competence of the
crew (the passage planning has been discussed earlier
in this textbook).
• Environment
• As far as possible, always avoid any action or activity
that might be harmful to the environment.
• In Great Britain, sailors who fail to comply
with the SOLAS regulations, mandatory for all
leisure craft users from 1 July 2002, risk
prosecution and fines of up to ₤5000. Also, in
instances where it is proved that fatalities
have occurred because of non-compliance, a
jail sentence could be imposed.
Calling for assistance using flares
• There are three main types of distress flare, all
with different ignition systems. A skipper
should read the instructions and familiarise
himself with each type of flare before he
needs to use them in an emergency and
ensure that they are in-date – old flares
become very unreliable.
• - Hand-held red: The skipper should use it day or night
when near to the shore or to assist rescue craft to see him.
He should wear gloves if possible, hold at arm’s length
downwind and doesn’t look directly at the flare.
• - Orange smoke: These are hand-held or buoyant types.
They are useful to help rescue helicopters identify the
skipper’s position and to assess wind direction.
• - Red parachute rocket: It can be seen for up to 25 miles
in good visibility. It rises to about 300 metres, then falls
slowly under the parachute. It should be fired vertically or
• slightly downwind. Never fire a parachute flare if a
helicopter is approaching.
• Red flares and orange smoke are used to attract
attention in case of difficulty and to pinpoint your
position for searching rescue craft. White flares
are not distress signals – they are only used to
warn others of dangers of collision.
• A tip: It is better to fire flares in groups of two –
they are more likely to be seen than singly.
• Flares should be held downwind and outboard so
that any burning dross falls clear of the boat.
VHF emergency signals
• A distress signal is only to be used when there
is grave and imminent danger to a vessel or
person and immediate assistance is required.
Do not hesitate to send a distress signal if your
vessel is sinking, if there is a fire that you are
unable to put out, if you are not sure that you
will recover the person who fell over the side,
if your engine or steering gear has failed in
heavy weather…
Switch on the radio, select channel 16, and
transmit on high power:
Mayday – Mayday – Mayday
This is – Name of vessels three times
Mayday – Name of vessel once
Give your position
State the nature of the emergency
Type of assistance required
Give any other helpful information
Over – end of message
• If the emergency does
not warrant a full
Mayday alert (or if in
doubt) the urgency call
may be used instead.
Send a PanPan alert if
you need medical
assistance, if you have
an engine, steering,
fire, or some other
problem, but there is
no imminent danger to
the vessel or people:
1. PanPan – PanPan – PanPan
2. All stations – All stations –
All stations
3. This is – Name of vessel
three times
4. Give your position
5. State the nature of the
6. Type of assistance required
7. Over – end of message
Other recognised signals for assistance are:
• - SOS in Morse code by light or sound.
• - Letters NC by flag or Morse code.
• - A ball shape displayed over or under a square
• - Continuous sounding of fog horn.
Safety message
• A sécurité call is an important navigational or
meteorological warning. If you spot a large
floating object, an oil spill, an approaching
tornado, a light buoy that is not lit, or
anything that is a threat to safe navigation or
environment, transmit a sécurité message.

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