IMRF Involvement at International SAR Meeting in Berlin

Posted in LIFELINE October 2016 - English

In September the IMRF secretariat’s David Jardine-Smith and Rebecca Jeffries attended the 23rd session of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on SAR established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This year the meeting was held in Berlin, and had a very full agenda.

The JWG’s work includes acting as an editorial committee for the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual, the primary international guidance for everyone involved in SAR.

The IAMSAR Manual is updated every three years: the 2016 edition is now available – IMRF members can benefit from a 20% discount on its price by buying it from the IMRF’s online bookshop at But the JWG takes on a lot of other work too, delegated to it by the two UN bodies, with the overall aim of harmonising maritime and aeronautical SAR and furthering completion of the Global SAR Plan.

This year there were some 40 papers to discuss, many of them very detailed. As reported in the August edition of LIFE LINE (available for free download from the newsletter archive), the IMRF tabled three of them, and co-sponsored a fourth.

The JWG had previously asked the IMRF to compare the current guidance on mass rescue operations in the IAMSAR Manual with the guidance developed as part of our own project (see, and to propose amendments as necessary. This work continues, and will be completed in time for the publication of the 2019 edition of IAMSAR. A link to the IMRF project material will also be included in the next edition.

We will be working too with Sweden, Canada and others on the related problem of ‘areas remote from SAR facilities’. If there are very few SAR units available, and/or they are distant from the scene of an accident, any SAR case is a challenge, and may be ‘beyond normal SAR capability’ – which is how mass rescue operations are defined. The links between these areas of concern are clear, and we will work together on how best to fill the gaps.

Working with the United States, Cruise Lines International Association and other contributors, the IMRF has prepared revised guidance on SAR plans of cooperation, which all passenger ships trading internationally are required to carry under the terms of the SOLAS Convention.

The plans are intended to facilitate early and close contact between a shipping company whose vessel is involved in an incident and the relevant Rescue Coordination Centre, so that both can work together in support of the ship’s master, crew and passengers.

The revision agreed by the JWG will make this process easier as regards cruise ships in particular. Where it is impractical for such a ship to exchange planning information with all the RCCs whose regions it passes through, the SAR plan is held by a ‘SAR data provider’, who the coordinating RCC can contact in the event of an incident.

Courtesy of the United Kingdom, there will now be just one SAR data provider; the UK’s National Maritime Operations Centre. Removing other links in the chain will help the necessary information to be made quickly available to the right people – an important step in a major rescue case.

The JWG also agreed a reorganisation proposed by the IMRF of the contents of Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual, which is required to be carried by most ships, and is also used by SAR units.

The reorganisation will make the book easier to use – which is obviously beneficial when responding to an emergency – by grouping together information on subjects such as on-scene coordination, search and rescue, making it easier to find in a hurry.

The JWG welcomed too the IMRF’s paper on the invisibility, or limited visibility, of some modern safety and emergency lighting systems when SAR unit crews are using night-vision goggles and similar infrared devices.

The problem arises in some (not all) cases when light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have replaced incandescent bulbs in the equipment: see ‘In the Dark’ in the August edition of LIFE LINE. ICAO and IMO will be asked to pass the information on to their Member States, for action at national level.

Among many other topics, the JWG also considered the ongoing problem of non-responsive SAR Points of Contact, or SPOCs. These are the agencies contacted by Cospas-Sarsat Mission Control Centres when an emergency beacon is detected by their satellites, so that SAR action can be rapidly instigated. The system fails, however, if – to put it bluntly – the SPOC does nothing in response to the emergency call.

This happens too often. We will include an article on this important subject (for the use of emergency beacons continues to increase rapidly) in the December edition of LIFE LINE. In the meantime, readers may be interested in the model agreement between SPOCs and Mission Control Centres developed by Cospas-Sarsat and ICAO, available at

Cospas-Sarsat gave the JWG an update too on the Medium-altitude Earth Orbit Search and Rescue system, or MEOSAR. Full Operational Capability is expected in 2018, with global coverage and a 5 km or better location accuracy. Existing 406 MHz beacons will be fully compatible with the MEOSAR system, but the second generation beacons currently under development will provide better performance.

It is important for RCC personnel to become familiar with MEOSAR as merged alerts including this system’s data will be sent to RCCs from late this year. An RCC Handbook and a video presentation are being developed by Cospas-Sarsat.

As noted above, these are only some of the issues discussed by the JWG in Berlin. Its conclusions, and its proposals for ongoing work, will now be reported to ICAO and the IMO. In IMO’s case, this report will be made to the next meeting of the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), in London in March.

There will be an IMRF delegation at the NCSR meeting to help progress the important work the JWG continues to do.

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