Go to top of page

Focus area 3.2: Saving lives daily through search and rescue

See performance measure Performance table 3.2.1; Performance measure 3.2.2; Performance measure 3.2.3

During 2019–20, AMSA’s Response Centre received 7806 alerts from beacons or other sources. Each alert was triaged and the median response time was less than the 10 minute target (2019–20 median time of 2.6 minutes, see Performance measure 3.2.2) for incident assessment triage.

We responded to 390 incidents. For those incidents for which AMSA had responsibility, the median time for an asset to arrive on-scene was better than our 150 minute target for day operations and 180 minute target for night operations (see Performance measure 3.2.3). With the crucial assistance of partners, AMSA successfully rescued 199 people during 2019–20. We also coordinated 90 medical evacuations from merchant and cruise ships.

Case study: Seven crew saved from overturned yacht, Showtime

Recovery of SV Showtime A photo showing the overturned SV Showtime. AMSA coordinated the rescue of seven crew from the overturned vessel.
Image source: Google
At 02:21AM on 5 January 2020, AMSA received an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) alert, registered to the Sydney to Hobart 12 metre racing yacht Showtime. Within minutes, two personal locator beacons (PLB) activated in a similar position 12 nautical miles East of Bermagui, NSW.

Using the EPIRB registration details, the AMSA Response Centre contacted the owner, who advised the yacht was returning from Hobart with seven crew on-board. At the same time the Sydney Water Police advised us that a South Coast Volunteer Marine Rescue unit heard a VHF mayday call in a similar position to the EPIRB and PLB detections. NSW Police also advised us a Showtime crew member had called 000 also requesting urgent assistance. The Sydney Water Police launched a rescue vessel from Bermagui heading to the reported position.

AMSA issued a broadcast to ships in the area to respond, and sent the Challenger aircraft based in Essendon to the scene. AMSA identified the catamaran Watermark in the area of the incident, and diverted it to assist. The Challenger aircraft used its on-board electronic sensors to locate the Showtime life raft and directed the police vessel to the life raft’s exact position.

Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes after the initial EPIRB detection, the police vessel successfully recovered all seven crew from the life raft and transported them to Batemans Bay. The survivors later advised that the yacht had lost its keel and overturned.

Case study: Changes to EPIRB laws for domestic commercial vessels

Example of a float-free EPIRB The image shows an example of a float-free emergency position indication radio beacons, also known as EPIRBs. These devices are capable of floating to the surface of the water in case of an emergency where the device is submerged. This removes the requirement for crew to locate and activate the emergency beacon.
To improve safety outcomes for smaller domestic commercial vessels, from 1 January 2021, new laws covering the carriage of emergency position indication radio beacons (EPIRBs) will apply to certain types of domestic commercial vessels.

Industry was consulted from October 2017 to February 2019. Although the changes to the requirement to carry a float-free EPIRB commenced on 1 January 2019, a 24 month transitional period was provided to allow industry adequate time to purchase, register and install float-free EPIRBs on their vessels.

A float free EPIRB is a water activated EPIRB fitted in a float-free bracket. It can activate itself and float free to the surface. It activates when a vessel is submerged between one and four metres underwater and seafarers are unable or do not have time to activate the beacon manually.
A float-free EPIRB can also be manually removed from its bracket and activated. Once activated, the float-free EPIRB will float to the surface where it will remain buoyant, transmitting a distress signal. This signal can then be detected in the same way other EPIRBs are detected, using the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system.

The requirement to carry float-free EPIRBs will improve safety for industry. Given the speed at which an incident can occur, a seafarer may not have the time nor means to manually activate an EPIRB. Installing a float-free EPIRB increases the likelihood of a successful search and rescue through better tracking following an incident.

These changes have been implemented through the National Standard for Commercial Vessels, with the changes applicable to new, existing and transitional survey and non-survey vessels meeting the following criteria:

  • Class 1, 2 and 3 domestic commercial vessels (DCV) equal to or greater than 12 metres in length and operating beyond two nautical miles seaward from land
  • Class 1, 2 and 3 DCVs less than 12 metres in length operating in B or C waters provided the vessel does not hold level flotation
  • Class 4 vessels equal to or greater than 12 metres in length not holding level flotation
  • Vessels less than 7.5 metres long have the option to carry a GPS-equipped EPIRB, instead of carrying a float-free EPIRB. If the operator chooses this option, all persons on board must wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD).