IMO Sub-Committee on navigation, communications and search and rescue

This statutory news provides an update from the 7th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), held in London from 15 to 24 January 2020. NCSR 7 agreed to recognize the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) for the provision of positioning, navigation and timing services, and finalized draft SOLAS amendments for the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

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Relevant for owners and managers of all cargo and passenger vessels.

Meeting highlights

NCSR 7: 

  • agreed to recognize the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) for the provision of positioning, navigation and timing services,
  • prepared draft performance standards for shipborne receiver equipment for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), 
  • agreed to develop a generic performance standard for satellite radionavigation systems, and
  • finalized draft amendments to SOLAS Ch. III and IV for the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS)

The requirements of SOLAS Ch. V, that all ships shall carry a receiver for a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) or a terrestrial radio navigation system, are based on recognition of systems provided and operated by governments or organizations. Operators of GNSS systems include, for example, GPS (USA), Galileo (EU), GLONASS (Russia), BeiDou (China).

Performance standards for IRNSS receiver equipment were adopted by MSC 99 in 2018.

NCSR 7 prepared a draft safety of navigation (SN) circular for recognizing the IRNSS as a component of the World-Wide Radio Navigation System (WWRNS), suitable for navigation in “ocean waters”, which will be forwarded to MSC 102 (May 2020) for approval.

Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS)

Japan is establishing an independently-operated regional satellite navigation system, the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), designed to provide positioning, navigation and timing services in the Asia-Oceania region, with a view for future recognition of the QZSS as a component of the WWRNS.

NCSR 7 drafted an MSC resolution on performance standards for shipborne QZSS receiver equipment, which will be forwarded to MSC for approval.

Generic performance standards for GNSS

NCSR 7 agreed to develop generic performance standards for satellite radionavigation systems (global or regional). The work to combine the many performance standards for receiver equipment into one document will be carried out by a correspondence group until NCSR 8 (February 2021).

Maritime services in the context of e-navigation

The objective of the IMO’s e-navigation initiative is to increase safety at sea by coordinating the numerous sophisticated electronic navigational tools.

As part of this work, the IMO is working on developing a globally harmonized list of maritime services offered in harbours and geographical areas, displayed electronically in a standardized manner. Examples of such maritime services are search and rescue services, supplier services, pilot services and meteorological services.

NCSR 7 considered descriptions of maritime services to facilitate worldwide harmonized communication and the exchange of information between shore and ships and agreed to further progress the work in a harmonization group until NCSR 8 (February 2021).

E-navigation strategy implementation plan

NCSR 7 agreed to consider revisions of the e-navigation strategy implementation plan (MSC.1/Circ.1595) to reflect the latest developments and future tasks. The work will be carried out by a correspondence group for consideration by a future session of the NCSR Sub-Committee.

Safety measures for non-SOLAS ships in polar waters

Fishing vessels and yacht incidents in polar waters pose a risk to human life, to the polar environment and to search and rescue operations. The IMO has initiated the 2nd phase of the Polar Code to consider safety measures for non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters.

NCSR 7 considered the feasibility and consequences of applying mandatory navigation and voyage planning requirements to non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters and agreed to progress the work in a correspondence group until NSCR 8 (February 2021).

Modernization of the GMDSS

The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), adopted in 1988, has been subject to review and modernization to adapt to modern communication systems and remove carriage requirements for obsolete systems.

NCSR 7 finalized draft amendments to SOLAS Ch. III and IV on radiocommunications for modernization of the GMDSS.

NCSR 7 further identified 40 IMO resolutions and circulars in need of consequential amendments and/or editorial treatment due to the GMDSS modernization.

Work on related and consequential amendments to other existing instruments will progress in a correspondence group, with a view to complete all necessary amendments at NCSR 8 for approval by MSC 104 in 2021 and for adoption by MSC 105 in 2022.

Developments in GMDSS satellite services

As part of the modernization of the GMDSS, SOLAS amendments to accommodate additional mobile satellite providers entered into force on 1 January 2020.

NCSR 7 preliminarily assessed the Chinese BeiDou Message Service System (BDMSS) for use in the GMDSS and invited the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) to conduct the technical and operational assessment of BDMSS and to provide a technical and operational assessment report for consideration by a future session of the NCSR Sub-Committee.

Unified interpretations

NCSR 7 agreed that expired primary batteries for survival craft two-way VHF radiotelephone apparatuses can be used for no other purpose than to examine and check the operation of two-way VHF radiotelephone apparatuses. Expired batteries should be of a colour or marking such that they cannot be confused with batteries intended for use in the event of a distress situation.

Any other business

NCSR 7 discussed the issue of electromagnetic interference (EMI) effects of light emitting diode (LED) lighting systems and their possible impact or noise disturbance on GMDSS equipment like VHF, MF, HF radios or outage of GPS receivers on board ships. NCSR 7 concluded that interested parties should submit relevant contributions to the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group for further consideration.

NCSR 7 agreed that there is a need for consequential amendments of the performance standards for VDR and S-VDR, due to the revised performance standards for EPIRB as adopted by MSC 101 (resolution MSC.471[191]). The Sub-Committee could, however, not come to an agreement with respect to implementation of the amendments, and the issue was forwarded to the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group for further consideration.


As NCSR is a Sub-Committee, all decisions concerning rules, regulations and dates are subject to further consideration and approval by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). DNV GL recommends our customers to monitor the outcome of MSC 102 in May 2020.


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