Fishing can be a dangerous activity that involves an extremely high level of risk. While Canadian fish harvesters are encouraged to achieve safety through preventative actions, there are times when additional measures are necessary. When an accident occurs, the Search and Rescue (SAR) system quickly becomes the primary safety net.
When dealing with emergencies, fish harvesters should understand three important components of the SAR system: alerting, detection and response.
The alerting stage represents a significant level of urgency for SAR providers and carries with it a well-structured course of action(s) designed to bring a marine incident to a successful conclusion. Fish harvesters should be aware of the key elements of the SAR alerting system and know how to activate it for a quick response:
(DFO – Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) operate three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCCs) and two Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres (MRSCs) that provide search and rescue operations 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year in support of maritime activity in Canadian waters;
Mariners are cautioned that a cellular telephone is not a good substitute for a marine radio because the mobile radio safety system in the southern waters of Canada is based principally on VHF, radio/telephone (R/T) and DSC communications. VHF has the advantage that a call can be heard by the closest MCTS centre(s) and by ships in the vicinity which could provide immediate assistance. On the other hand, the cellular telephone network is a party-to-party system and the benefit of the broadcast mode in an emergency situation is not available. Details of this service may be obtained by contacting local cellular telephone companies, however, mariners are cautioned that not all cellular telephone companies provide this service.
Information on the locations, points of contact, marine services, coverage areas and procedures provided by MCTS centres in Canada can be found in the RAMN annual publication. Fish harvesters are cautioned that while VHF coverage exists in southern Canadian waters with a theoretical range of 40 nautical miles (N/M) from the coast, they should consult the RAMN annual publication for areas in some northern latitudes and the Canadian Arctic where VHF coverage does not exist.
Communication is the principal means for alerting the SAR system. For this reason it is important for fish harvesters to have, and understand, equipment on board their vessels that is compatible with the systems that are available in the SAR network. The following standards and procedures should apply onboard all vessels:
While all means of communication are encouraged for SAR alerting, a marine radio offers a distinct advantage. The mobile radio safety system in southern Canadian waters is based primarily on VHF, R/T and DSC communications. VHF and/or other R/T communications have the advantage of being monitored by other stations or ships in the immediate vicinity. It is also very important that at least one person has the appropriate training in the operations of the communications equipment in use onboard the vessel. In addition, knowing your equipment and the capacity of the shore stations and vessels in your vicinity to monitor communications is extremely important.
Conventional or traditional communications are currently undergoing significant change. Conventional types of communication using basic terrestrial technology are being supplemented by space technology. Satellite technology and DSC provide features and options for SAR alerting that increases both efficiency and certainty of reception ashore. The system, known as Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is designed to:
GMDSS is an international system that began in 1992. In keeping with the international GMDSS standard, Canada is implementing a system of domestic carriage requirements for commercial vessels. These carriage requirements are defined by regulations under the Canada Shipping Act and depend on the size and location in which vessels operate.
A worldwide system of Sea Areas has been defined under GMDSS. These include:
Canada has implemented all Sea Areas except Sea Area A2. This means that fish harvesters operating outside of VHF coverage on the coast (theoretical range of 40 N/M) need to carry onboard their vessel GMDSS equipment that conforms with Sea Area A3. Canada has made modifications to the GMDSS carriage requirements for domestic users such as fishing vessels of certain sizes. While fishing vessels operating in Sea Area A3 can supplement their equipment with Inmarsat C distress alerting capabilities, it is not mandatory unless the vessel is greater than 300 Gross Registered Tons (GRT). Fish harvesters should consult with a Transport Canada (TC) marine safety inspector (marine safety surveyor)to ensure they are carrying the GMDSS equipment for the area in which they are operating.
In keeping with international and domestic equipment required onboard vessels, MCTS centres are currently upgrading their equipment to accommodate SAR alerting through the GMDSS using DSC technology. HF/DSC alerting services has already been established for Sea Area A4 (Canadian Arctic above 70 degrees north latitude). Effective February 1, 2003, MCTS VHF/DSC was placed in “Initial Operational Condition” (IOC). Sea Area A1 will be officially declared in Canadian coastal areas when MCTS VHF/DSC meets its “Full Operational Condition” (FOC) scheduled for August 1, 2003. Fish harvesters should be aware of the following:
There is currently no Sea Area A1 in the St. Lawrence River system west of Longitude 66 degrees West, the Great Lakes and other inland waterways. Upgrading to accommodate DSC distress alerting is planned in conjunction with the United States system in the near future. Fish harvesters operating in the absence of MCTS VHF/DSC alerting services can expect current standard VHF radio services to prevail. Fish harvesters upgrading their shipboard communications equipment in these areas are recommended to equip their vessels with the DSC option for bridge to bridge distress alerting.
One of the most important impacts of GMDSS is the use of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for distress alerting. GMDSS makes use of the COSPAS/SARSAT Satellite System (Search and Rescue Satellite System) to provide global detection of the 406 MHz EPIRBs. These coded beacons are small, portable, buoyant, and provide an effective means of issuing a distress alert anywhere in the world. Any signal received from an EPIRB is considered to be a positive indication of distress. EPIRBs are not currently mandatory for some smaller fishing vessels but it is highly recommended that all fish harvesters carry them onboard.
Things to be aware of when fitting fishing vessels with EPIRBs:
Class l EPIRBs are housed in a special bracket equipped with a hydrostatic release. This mechanism releases the EPIRB in water depths of one to three metres (three to ten feet)at which time the EPIRB floats to the surface and begins transmitting. It is therefore important to have float-free EPIRBs fitted onboard in an area where obstructions will not prevent their release or ability to float free. Since Class II EPIRBs are manually activated only, it is important that they are fitted in a location where they are most readily available in the event of an emergency.
There are other types of alerting equipment available under the GMDSS that are used regularly on vessels operating further offshore. The Inmarsat satellite network provides global communications except for Polar Regions. In areas without any VHF or DSC shore facilities, Inmarsat A, B or C terminals are used for distress alerting and communications between ship and shore. Inmarsat provides an efficient means of routing distress alerts to SAR authorities ashore.
Fish harvesters should be aware that Maritime Safety Information (MSI) comprises of distress alerts, SAR information, navigational and weather warnings, which can be received by the following methods:
Currently in Canada, 518kHz is used for both English and French language NAVTEX broadcasts, however as of January 1, 2005 NAVTEX broadcasts by CCG MCTS centres wil be on 518kHz for English language broadcasts and 490kHz for French language broadcasts in designated waters. Fish harvesters should consult the most recent RAMN publication for new information pertaining to GMDSS. When required, this publication is revised on a monthly basis through Notices to Mariners Part III.
Technology, in particular, has provided tools for alerting in many different forms. There is versatile communications equipment available through both satellite and cellular service. Satellite technology has seen the development of various tracking methods and alerting devices such as Personal Locator Transmitters (PLTs) or customised Man Overboard Tags (MOTs). As systems, such as fish management tracking/monitoring devices, are developed and become more standardized it will be easier for SAR to incorporate them into a more elaborate alerting regime. Fish harvesters should use caution when using any alerting system that is not compatible with or approved to current SAR requirements. If such systems are used, fish harvesters should understand their limitations and know how to apply them to get the necessary safety benefits.
Training and experience are essential when operating communications equipment during an emergency. Training is especially important in light of the new GMDSS requirements. The following courses are required/recommended and offered on behalf of Industry Canada (IC):
Fish harvesters should be aware that if they choose the option of a challenge exam for any GMDSS training certificate, a practical component involving the operation of equipment is a part of the evaluation. In order to properly assess the most appropriate training available, it is recommended to contact marine training institutions or a TC–marine safety inspector for information and advice.
There are various methods of visual alerting described in the Collision Regulations (Canada Shipping Act) and fishing vessels should be equipped accordingly. These may be the only means of signalling for assistance during times of emergencies. Other times, they can serve as a supplement to other alerting methods.
In many instances visual alerting is the easiest and quickest way to get the necessary help. Fish harvesters often fish within a close distance to one another therefore a visually activated signal will, in many cases, be seen and acted upon quickly.
In order to be prepared for visual alerting, it is necessary to understand the importance of flares and what type you should carry onboard:
While these requirements represent the minimum standard, you are encouraged to supplement signalling equipment. All flares should be stored in a watertight container and kept in a cool, dry place. Flares are approved by TC. This approval is only valid for four years from the date of manufacture. Following this, flares should be replaced and the outdated units disposed of in an approved manner. Any questions or concerns should be directed to TC-Marine Safety, CCG Office of Boating Safety, local fire department or police authority.
Other standard marine distress signals are described in the Collision Regulations.
The SAR system reaches far and wide and includes police, harbour and municipal authorities, federal and provincial agencies as well as other secondary support groups. The process of SAR alerting does not necessarily have to begin and end with the formal SAR network.
The role of the user is perhaps the most critical of all in activating the system. Early or timely notification, and accurate and descriptive information are key components. Second party involvement can also be important for SAR alerting. Either a designated person or organization can activate the system on behalf of another person, especially in overdue situations.
Fish harvesters should consider the following when dealing with second party alerting:
Failing to report changes in plans or delays in arrival times or failure to cancel the plan after arrival can unnecessarily activate the SAR system. This could cause an unnecessary search at the expense of other emergencies occurring elsewhere at the same time.
Detailed and accurate information is important in every situation involving an alert. Schedules, timelines, destinations, routes, gear locations, reporting procedures, people-on-board and medical considerations should be left with a responsible person and available in the event of a SAR alert. Information, such as vessel characteristics (length, colour and construction material), fuel, food supplies and survival equipment onboard are important details that should be properly documented.
Time should not be lost in reporting any situation that may warrant SAR attention. Early intervention is one of the most effective tools available to SAR providers in achieving a successful outcome.
Accidental or inappropriate distress alerts seriously distract from the efficiency of GMDSS or any other systems in use. False alerts can seriously create an unnecessary workload for SAR services and put lives in danger by causing the unnecessary deployment of resources. Fish harvesters are cautioned to take the necessary steps to properly notify the SAR system of such occurrences. The annual RAMN publication, section 4-32 provides instructions on the processes available for cancelling false alarms. Knowingly activating a false alert is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Detection is an element of response. It can sometimes be accomplished with the same tools used for alerting. Being fully fitted with communications equipment provides one of the most important means of alerting. At the same time, the equipment can also be used in a response situation to locate your vessel. Homing equipment available on most SAR resources and shore-based facilities will detect communications equipment onboard a vessel.
Fish harvesters, including those operating in small inshore open or closed boats must consider the importance of fitting their vessel with VHF, R/T, a mobile telephone and/or other communications equipment.
Some MCTS centres across Canada are equipped with Direction Finding (DF) capabilities. The primary function of DF is to provide assistance to vessels in distress or other emergency situations. Fish harvesters should be aware that this is not a navigation service, but rather an aid for detecting location by providing a line of bearing from the DF site. It can also confirm a line of bearing for vessels that are uncertain of their location. MCTS centres will, on request, transmit signals on a frequency that will enable fish harvesters to take a bearing from their own DF.
Fish harvesters using this service must use discretion and be aware of its limitations. Positions must be regarded as estimates only. Bearings from shipboard DFs may be affected by atmospheric and calibration anomalies and placement of metallic objects (poles, wires, winches, antennas, etc.). The locations of MCTS centres with DF facilities are listed in the RAMN publication. Fish harvesters should consult this publication for locations and other information relating to the use of DF equipment.
EPIRBs can serve a dual function of alerting and detection. Once an EPIRB is activated (automatically or manually), the battery-powered source allows the EPIRB to continue to transmit for up to 48 hours. An interface feature with a built-in GPS system on new generation EPIRBs provides an automatic fixing in latitude and longitude. With or without this feature, there is a continuous transmission of coded signals that allows the SARSAT system to fix positions and obtain information through the unique identification number. A properly registered EPIRB will assist SAR in identifying the vessel and owner.
All 406 MHz EPIRBs have a built-in transmitting feature on 121.5 MHz that will direct SAR resources to your location when they are in the area. EPIRBs must be maintained and properly used to provide the protection for which they were designed. Aside from the procedures and standards outlined in the alerting section, you should consider the following in the interest of detection:
Search and Rescue Transponders (SARTs) are designed to help locate vessels in distress or survivors in a life raft. They can be detected by radars carried onboard most vessels. SAR and multi-purpose aircrafts are usually equipped with radar to detect SARTs as a function of their response capability.
A SART transmission is triggered by a signal sent out by radar of a search vessel and shows up on the screen as a series of dots, accurately indicating the position of the SART. SARTs are packaged in approved life rafts for fishing vessels greater than 20 metres to serve as standard detection equipment. They are sometimes carried as optional equipment on fishing vessels less than 20 metres. SARTs are mandatory equipment for 'Safety of Life at Sea' (SOLAS) class vessels and are mounted on the bridge ready for manual transport in the event of an emergency evacuation. They offer an excellent detection device in the event of a distress situation.
Fish harvesters using SARTs should be aware of the following operating procedures:
Radar reflectors should be properly placed clear of obstruction and as high as possible onboard a vessel. This provides additional assurance of detection during times of poor visibility and darkness when radar searches are sometimes the only option available to SAR providers.
Visual detection is ultimately the last step in the process of response before rescue or any type of assistance is provided. There are steps you can take to prepare for visual detection during an emergency situation:
While survival equipment has the primary function of providing buoyancy, its colours make an excellent target for detection in the event of a rescue operation. Fish harvesters should wear protective clothing, such as rain gear, that reflects colours that are easy to detect, such as yellow or orange. Black and other dark colours blend in with surrounding environment. Similarly, fishing vessels should be a colour that will assist with detection in emergency situations. For example, a blue coloured hull in the ocean or a white coloured vessel harvesting seals in ice fields is difficult and sometimes impossible to detect by searchers.
Implementation of International Conventions, International Joint Agreements and domestic legislation provide protection for all mariners who find themselves in danger at sea. It is mandatory for a vessel to respond to a distress situation and failure to do so, without just cause, has legal consequences.
The administration and/or coordination of Canada's obligation to the international SAR system is ajoint responsibility shared between the lead agency, DND and DFO - CCG.
The following systems and resources are in place to fulfill this role:
The use of SAR resources involves many considerations relating to the level of the emergency unfolding at any given time. Primary SAR vessels and aircraft are specifically designed, equipped and crewed for SAR purposes. These resources are strategically located and positioned in areas where activity is highest. A pre-determined response capability makes these resources available the moment an alert is received.
Highly trained SAR technicians, with medical and rescue expertise, are available on air resources. CCG vessels carry Rescue Specialists (RS) who have training in pre-hospital emergency care and other types of rescue techniques. Efforts also go towards equipping and training voluntary organizations such as the CCGA and CASARA.
The rescue coordinator at each JRCC/MRSC assesses all alert situations for an appropriate response. All SAR operations, including search planning, resource tasking and rescue coordination are conducted under the authority of the rescue coordinator who assumes the role of the Search Mission Coordinator (SMC). The JRCC or MRSC that will be assuming SMC responsibilities will be determined by the area of responsibility assigned to that centre. Fish harvesters can activate the SAR system at any level and do not have to be preoccupied with determining which centre they should alert for assistance.
Response to alerts may come from many areas of the marine community. The type of response could range from a dedicated SAR resource to a private vessel operating a close distance to the vessel in distress. The degree of urgency, the type of emergency, the availability of resources, and the location are all key elements that determine the type of response in a given situation. Some of the most common alerts received from fish harvesters are:
Distress alerts command the highest degree of urgency in the maritime community and warrant the greatest level of response. For the most part, response to such situations is spontaneous and based on a long-standing system of tradition, conventions, agreements and moral and legal obligations. Response is often well underway before the alert is received at the JRCC/MRSC. Mariners, knowing their responsibility and having the means to carry it out, often proceed to assist in an appropriate manner. MCTS centres enhance the response with communications and traffic systems capabilities. "Mayday relay" broadcasts through the Coast Guard radio, NAVTEX broadcasts and Enhanced Group Calling (EGC) through the Inmarsat C satellite system help to broaden the response network.
The Search Rescue Coordinator (SMC) will assess the distress situation and put in place a response action plan. All available primary and secondary resources, including air and marine, will be assessed for tasking. Vessels of opportunity will be identified using MCTS and Inmarsat monitoring systems.
The Automated Mutual Vessel Reporting System (AMVER) and other informal systems directly available to the JRCC/MRSC will be consulted for resource locations and other types of assistance such as medical expertise.
Distress situations can be highly unpredictable. A distress incident can sometimes be resolved as quickly as it started. Other times it can evolve into a complex situation. If necessary, an On Scene Coordinator (OSC) will be appointed by the SMC to assist with communications and coordination until the SAR operation has ended.
There are times when abandoning a vessel is the only option for a successful rescue. Fish harvesters must be aware that when searchers are required to locate a person in the water or life rafts, there are tools available to assist searchers, including night vision goggles (NVGs), datum marker buoys (DMBs) and computer aided search panning. The best insurance for a successful response lies directly with fish harvesters themselves in making sure they are prepared for easy detection and good protection from the elements.
A man overboard alert is treated with the same response system as a distress alert. An urgency or " Pan" broadcast by MCTS centres and the INMARSAT system broadens the response network and clears emergency channels for coordination. Immediate alerting is an essential element of response in the case of a man overboard, since probability of detection and survival is substantially reduced with the passage of time.
Marine incidents are not always life threatening. Each one has to be treated differently, as there is always the potential that it may evolve into a life-threatening situation. Each situation is subject to the judgment of the rescue coordinator. If assistance is required, the following options will be considered:
Medical expertise does not exist at the JRCC/MRSC but it can be accessed quickly and efficiently through the SAR communications network. When a medical emergency occurs, MCTS can conduct a radio medical with fish harvesters and medical authorities. Once medical requirements are identified the SMC will consult with medical authorities to determine a course of action. Depending on the circumstances, the response could entail:
Overdue vessels trigger a very comprehensive SAR operation, involving the entire communications network, urgency broadcasts, air and marine resource tasking and police and harbour authorities.
Overdue situations are often very difficult to resolve by SAR authorities, mainly because of time and lack of information. Fish harvesters must be fully aware that they are the ones most essential in providing necessary information. The use of sail or float plans must contain elements of time, location and descriptions involving the vessel and people on board (POB). Likewise, people or organizations responsible for the implementation of sail plans must understand their role in administrating the plan on behalf of fish harvesters. Their role in alerting the SAR system should be in keeping with the following criteria:
Once aware of an overdue situation, coordinators at the JRCC/MRSC will verify information and conduct an immediate communications search. Failing contact with the vessel in question, a search plan will be established and tasking of resources will occur. A search activated for overdue situations will continue until the safety of the people on-board is assured or until all reasonable efforts are exhausted and certainty has been established that survival is no longer possible.
At all times response mechanisms work best when emergencies or pending emergencies are reported early. Attempting to repair equipment failures is correct, but notifying the SAR system via MCTS centres or other appropriate agencies should be done before the situation gets worse. Second party involvement is also an acceptable practice, but in order to avoid errors or misunderstandings, direct communication with a shore station is preferred if at all possible. Fish harvesters are encouraged to communicate their emergency radio priorities using the MAYDAY, PAN or SECURITE prefixes during appropriate levels of emergencies. These priorities are used in the following manner:
Information pertaining to the use of the radio priorities is outlined in the annual RAMN publication under the Distress, Urgency and Safety communications sections.
While a comprehensive SAR system is designed to provide protection for the user, fish harvesters must remember they are responsible for their own safety. The SAR system works best when the users equip themselves for maximum survivability. Compliance with the elements outlined in alerting, detection and response provides a good measure of insurance in the event of a marine emergency.
Fish harvesters, in equipping their vessel for their own safety, should consider prevention and preparedness and exercise it in the following manner:
The importance of training in preventing fishing vessel accidents and having the capacity to deal effectively with accidents when they occur cannot be overstated. Recent efforts have focused on delivering preventive education and MED training for all levels of fish harvesters across Canada. Current Transport Canada (TC) regulations require a minimum standard of training in MED for all crew and operators of small fishing vessels less than 150 gross tons. To apply the most suitable training to fish harvesters the following guidelines have been established by Transport Canada (TC):
Due to lack of delivery and training programs, the deadline for completion of MED courses was extended from July 31, 2002 to April 1, 2007. In order to meet this new deadline, all fish harvesters are required to register for the requisite course. Enforcement action will be taken under the Canada Shipping Act against any fish harvester that fails to demonstrate proof of registration by July 31, 2003. Full enforcement action will be taken if training is not taken by April 1, 2007.
Fish harvesters should contact the nearest Transport Canada Centre or course providers at marine training institution across Canada for details regarding course requirements.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada | www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Canadian Coast Guard | www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca
National SAR Secretariat | www.nss.gc.ca
Transportation Safety Board of Canada | www.tsb.gc.ca
Transport Canada | www.tc.gc.ca
Industry Canada | www.ic.gc.ca
Published and produced by:
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
P.O. Box 5667
St. John’s NL A1C 5X1
with assistance from
Canadian Coast Guard Internet Site | www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca
Transport Canada Internet Site | www.tc.gc.ca
Catalogue - T31-123/2003E | ISBN - 0-662-34087-6
Disponible en français