Health and safety

The app that takes the search out of search and rescue

5 August 2019

Many professional seafarers are aware of the network of marine safety agencies that support search and rescue (SAR) co-ordination at sea when venturing in their professional capacity around the globe.

Whilst many commercial vessels are now equipped with The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) to support the automatic reporting of their location, unregistered vessels used for coastal leisure or inshore fishing activities are mostly not fitted with sophisticated equipment, so the SAR agencies are not able to easily obtain information regarding voyage history and last known position.

For those who engage in marine leisure activities such as coastal sailing, wind or kite surfing, sea kayaking, sea angling, motor boating and even walking on coastal paths, the SAR agencies have even more difficulty assessing the exact location of missing persons.

To assist in this dilemma, an Irish software company called 8 West Consulting has developed an app for use on mobile devices. Known as SafeTrx, the app was developed by the firm’s chief executive John Murphy, following his personal experience of getting into serious difficulties during a mountaineering expedition in the Alps a few years ago. He developed the app in close consultation with the Irish coastguard to improve the co-ordination of rescue within the Irish SAR area; however, the app’s availability has quickly spread around European SAR regions, with 12 countries' marine rescue co-ordination centres now recognising SafeTrx.

In the UK, the SafeTrx app is available via the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), and in Ireland it is supported by the Irish Sailing Association. The use of the app has been improved very recently using ESRI Nautical Charts in the Netherlands SAR region, and KNRM support the Dutch app under the title 'KNRM Helps'. In Denmark, the Danish Maritime Authority has supported the use of SafeTrx to help promote safe and responsible recreational boating on the Danish coast.

The user can download the app to Android and Apple devices and insert personal information securely within the registration menu. When used in Sail Plan Mode, the starting point is recorded, and a destination is selected with an estimated time of arrival (ETA). If the ETA is exceeded, text messages are sent automatically to the user's nominated emergency contact(s). The user should try to ensure that on arrival they end the trip upon the app to avoid false alerts.

Should a nominated contact alert the SAR authority with a concern, the data from the Sail Plan can be accessed by the rescue co-ordination centre to ascertain last known position and a search plan can be initiated if appropriate by the SAR authority.

For more information on the SafeTrx app, see in the UK and for all countries where it is in use.