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EVDS not globally recognised as distress signals, says MCA

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Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) are not globally recognised as marine distress signals, says the UK’s Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The MCA has issued a marine notice that warns of the risks of using non-SOLAS or non-pyrotechnic distress flares, including EVDSs.

The Life-Saving Appliances - Recognised Distress Signals and Advertised Alternatives to Pyrotechnic Flares notice says that to be effective, distress signals need to be internationally recognised.

Annex IV of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS) lists the signals which should be used if a vessel is in distress and needs immediate assistance. Distress alerting equipment to transmit these signals (e.g. flares) is required to be carried on certain vessels.

The MCA is aware of the development and marketing of hand-held non-pyrotechnic devices offered as alternatives to pyrotechnic flares or Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS), which covers an array of different devices.

The light signal they produce is different to that of a pyrotechnic flare and may not be recognised as a distress signal, says the MCA. “This could have fatal consequences. However, not all EVDS provide a distress signal listed in International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS) Annex IV (such as SOS), and the MCA knows of no EVDS device which is compliant with the SOLAS technical performance standards for distress flares.

“To be effective, distress signals need to be internationally recognised. Not all EVDS provide a distress signal listed in COLREGS Annex IV (such as SOS), and the MCA knows of no EVDS device which is compliant with the SOLAS technical performance standards for distress flares. Consequently, the international carriage requirements do not recognise EVDS and the UK national carriage requirements have not been amended to formally recognise them either.”

If EVDS were to be given full recognition as distress signals, a change would be needed to Annex IV of the COLREGS or to the SOLAS technical performance standards and to the applicable international/UK national carriage requirements.

However, the MCA sees no likely potential of this in the near future as there is no objective evidence of a compelling need for change as yet.

Certain commercial vessels are required to carry flares in accordance with the applicable carriage requirements and such flares (other than hand-held smoke signals) must meet the requirements of the Marine Equipment Directive (MED) unless an alternative technical performance standard (such as MSN1676) is specified.

Compliance with the MED is demonstrated by the presence of the Wheel Mark. MED compliance incorporates compliance with European and IMO requirements. The MCA is not aware of any EVDS product which meets the light intensity required by the IMO or MSN1676 for distress flares.  This means that for commercial vessels EVDS products cannot be used in place of the flares required in carriage requirements.

Where carriage of flares is not mandatory, the MCA still advises that EVDS should not currently be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares. This is because of the risk that EVDS may not be recognised internationally as a distress signal.

The limitations of EVDS devices should be recognised and anyone using them should be made aware of the type and quality of signal being generated.

Nov 06, 2017