Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has warned all sailors and other boaters that electronic flares will NOT substitute for the traditional pyrotechnic flare, while US Coastguard has commissioned a study.
Distress equipment such as pyrotechnic flares must be carried on all seagoing and most non-seagoing commercial vessels as well as all pleasure vessels of 13.7 metres in length and over. They are to be used in an emergency to signal that a vessel is in distress and that it needs immediate assistance.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is aware of the development and marketing of hand-held non-pyrotechnic devices or Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) that are being offered as alternatives to pyrotechnic flares.
Geoff Matthews spokesperson for the MCA, said:
'The MCA notes the likely benefits of EVDS such as cost, safety and ease of disposal. However, from a practical perspective the signal produced by these devices is different to that produced by a hand-held pyrotechnic flare. We are concerned that electronic visual distress signals may not be recognised as such, with potentially fatal consequences’’.
'Therefore our advice is that EVDS, for the time being, should not be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares. However, commercial and recreational vessels of all sizes may carry EVDS in addition to pyrotechnic flares and use them as locating devices. Their limitations should be recognised though and all parties involved made aware of the type of signal being generated.'
Work has begun internationally to research the effectiveness of EVDS. For example, the US Coastguard has commissioned a study which the MCA is positively supporting by monitoring and contributing views.
The aim is to work towards recognition of these devices. To do this, EVDS need to be accepted as fit for purpose by the International Maritime Organization. A change to Annex IV of the Collision Regulations will also be required to give EVDS full recognition as distress signals. The MCA will provide updates from time to time as this work progresses.
Rescue Laser Flare on a wall - AIMEX ©
The international regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) apply to all vessels at sea and by special application to vessels on inland waters. Annex IV of these regulations sets out the signals used to indicate if a vessel is in distress and in need of immediate assistance. The equipment needed to make some of these signals (e.g. pyrotechnics) is required to be carried on all seagoing commercial vessels, and most non–seagoing commercial vessels. They are also required to be carried on all pleasure vessels of 13.7 metres in length and over. The Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention describes the standards that distress equipment must meet and whilst not mandatory for all pleasure vessels it follows that to avoid confusion similar standards need to be adopted.
The MCA is aware of the development and marketing of hand-held non-pyrotechnic devices offered as alternatives to pyrotechnic flares; these will be referred to in this document as Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS). Whilst noting the likely benefits of these such as cost, safety and ease of disposal, from a practical perspective the signal produced by these devices is different to that produced by a hand-held pyrotechnic flare and may not be recognised as a distress signal. This may have potentially fatal consequences.
To be effective, distress signals must be internationally recognised and whilst acknowledging the potential benefits of EVDS the MCA considers that a change would be needed to Annex IV of the COLREGS to permit these devices full recognition as distress signals.
Work has commenced in this area, the US Coast Guard for example has commissioned the international standards organisation, Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services
(RTCM), to research the effectiveness of EVDS. The MCA positively supports this initiative, through monitoring progress, contributing views, and supporting this work in the appropriate international fora. The ultimate aim is to work towards recognition of these devices, if they are shown to be fit for purpose, by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and a subsequent change to COLREGS Annex IV regulations.
When the US research is concluded further information on the current position will be published.
Advice for Mariners
Where the carriage of flares is mandatory, hand-held distress flares must meet the requirements of the Marine Equipment Directive which incorporates European and IMO requirements. None of the EVDS on the market that we are aware of, currently meet the light intensity required by the IMO Life Saving Appliance Code and as such do not conform to the Directive. This means that they cannot be carried as a substitute for pyrotechnic flares on vessels to which mandatory carriage applies.
Where carriage of flares is non–mandatory and due to the possibility that EVDS may not be recognised internationally as a distress signal, the MCA advises that EVDS, for the time being, should not be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares. However, for all pleasure vessels, seagoing commercial vessels, and most non–seagoing commercial vessels EVDS may be carried and used as a locating device, though their limitations should be recognised and all parties involved made aware of the type of signal being generated.
MCA Website Address: www.dft.gov.uk/mca
by Sail-World Cruising
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2:08 AM Mon 10 Jun 2013GMT
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