The Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) manages the needs of the radio frequency spectrum for all radiocommunications systems worldwide, including those of maritime radiocommunication and radionavigation.


Maritime frequencies are protected by a set of rules and procedures, which are based on studies between maritime and other radiocommunication systems.

In order to protect the maritime radiocommunication and navigation frequencies, there are special provisions in the Radio Regulations (RR). What is more, ITU’s radiomonitoring program aims to safeguard important frequencies used by emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRB) to transmit distress alerts.

Moreover, another important aspect for the maritime industry is the need for seafarers to be able to accurately determine the position of their vessel and other nearby vessels to ensure safe navigation. In this field, ITU has made developments on terrestrial radio navigation systems, like maritime radio beacons, hyperbolic terrestrial positioning systems in the Medium Frequency (MF) bands, RACON’s (radar beacons) and satellite positioning systems.

What is more, ITU along with the IMO have collaborated to introduce a global automatic identification system (AIS), which improves the safety of navigation and monitoring of shipping. ITU-R developed a recommendation, which is now the basic technical document for the AIS system.

Furthermore, regarding GMDSS, it uses terrestrial and satellite radio technologies on board ships and on shore. GMDSS is a set of safety procedures, frequencies, types of equipment, and communication protocols, developed through co-operation between the IMO and the ITU since the mid-1970’s.

Finally, the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, which will take place from October 28 to November 22, will have the following on its agenda:

  • Designation and identification of autonomous maritime radio devices;
  • Provision of an additional satellite component for a new communication system, the VHF data exchange system (VDES), which may support a future e-navigation system for shipping;
  • Modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), with the introduction of a new digital high speed Navigational Data (NAVDAT) system and a new satellite GMDSS provider. Protection of satellite and terrestrial GMDSS frequencies is essential and has to take into account the growth of applications in adjacent frequency bands.