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Enhancing Maritime Safety & Security with Iridium GMDSS

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Working in the maritime industry is not for the faint of heart. Commercial shipping and fishing vessel crews are vulnerable to natural elements, the isolation of the open seas, and—in some regions—the possibility of piracy incidents. The Iridium® Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was created as a safety mechanism for these threats, serving as a communications lifeline for vessels in distress.

GMDSS is a ship-to-shore or ship-to-ship safety and communications system mandated for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) vessels, as classified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—including cargo vessels over 300 gross tons and passenger vessels like cruise ships and ocean liners. The IMO requires each SOLAS vessel to be capable of transmitting and receiving GMDSS supported distress alerts through two separate and independent means. In 2019, Iridium expanded the coverage to the entire planet, ending a nearly 20-year monopoly on the internationally required service for ships.

Kyle Hurst, Iridium’s Director of Maritime Safety and Security Services, recently joined Digital Ship, one of the largest and most influential maritime publications, to discuss several service developments made to Iridium GMDSS and how they’re benefiting maritime communications and crew safety across the globe.



The Three “Seas”: Iridium GMDSS Benefits

Traversing the open seas requires a truly global network, and with its ecosystem of world-class partners, Iridium maritime safety equipment is designed to keep fleets safe and connected, no matter where they are in the world.

Hurst describes the key benefits of the Iridium GMDSS as the “three Cs” (or “Three Seas”—if you’re into puns):



“Having improved technology at a lower cost helps maritime safety in general,” Hurst notes. A lower cost means higher accessibility so more fleets can be equipped with Iridium GMDSS. The inaugural Iridium Conntected™ GMDSS terminal, the Lars Thrane LT-3100S, supplies all satellite GMDSS services with Iridium’s additional features for around a quarter of the cost of competing equipment requirements.



The unique structure of Iridium’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network allows for safety benefits to the maritime community, including:

  • Pole-to-pole network coverage
  • Highly-weather-resilient L-band
  • Satellite diversity to reduce signal blockage



Iridium GMDSS is the only system with safety voice capabilities.

“The phone call is key,” Hurst explains. “Knowing the nature of the distress, how many people are on board, and what the crew is doing allows the Rescue Coordination Center [RCC] to understand more about what’s going on and design an appropriate response.” Learn more about RCCs.

Iridium GMDSS also connects crew members to medical professionals for immediate assistance in emergencies.


Charting A New Path

Hurst described Iridium’s recent maritime performance, noting the company has seen “solid growth in activations and installation over the first three quarters of 2023, demand well above 2022 numbers.”

Around 20% of vessels have installed two Iridium GMDSS terminals for built-in voice redundancy.

“We have seen a lot of shipping companies moving toward Iridium GMDSS,” Hurst said, describing a significant shift from passive to active implementation strategies, meaning more companies are switching working terminals for Iridium GMDSS rather than just replacing terminals on failure.

With the wind of these successes in its sails, Iridium is gearing up for the anticipated release of GMDSS over Iridium Certus® in late 2024.

“In my view, you’ll have the fastest L-band broadband terminal with the most technologically advanced GMDSS all combined in one package,” according to Hurst.

Iridium has also launched its GMDSS Academy—a comprehensive curriculum designed for maritime academies and students. The three-module training includes up-to-date resources on the Iridium network and its evolving performance, Iridium GMDSS service capabilities, the latest equipment developments, and insights on how Iridium GMDSS can make a critical difference in maritime safety operations.

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