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GME – An Australian company taking the search out of Search and Rescue

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World Team on 13 Feb 2012
Rambler 100 capsize Fastnet Rock August 2011 Nigel Millard/RNLI Baltimore
Having activated an Australian made GME 406 EPIRB and listened to the throb of an Australian Navy Seahawk as it approached in the darkness towards our stricken boat in huge seas in the 1998 Sydney Hobart race, this writer is very favourably inclined towards GME EPIRBS and these days even more so with GME producing EPIRBS with GPS.

Over the last 30 years there have been almost 30,000 lives saved around the world because of the worldwide system of distress beacon signalling.

EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) came into being in 1979 and signal maritime distress. PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) introduced in 2003, are for personal use. When manually activated, or automatically activated upon immersion such beacons send out a distress signal.

The early analogue EPIRBs and PLBs operated on 121.5 MHz using the low earth orbiting satellite and could take up to two hours to detect an emergency signal. Because units did not have a unique identifier, false alarms were draining emergency resources.

By the late 1990’s the technology had moved forward with the launching of geostationary satellites, coupled with the development of 406 MHz EPIRBS and PLBs with integrated GPS receivers.

And where does Australia’s GME come into all this?

Standard Communications /GME an Australian family business founded in 1959, specialises in the design, production and distribution of marine electronics, two way radios and television signalling systems.

GME originally stood for Greenwich Marine Electronics. The company changed its name to Standard Communications trading as GME, and the brand name stuck.

The company’s mainstay in the early days was CB radio and other land based communications.

Prior to the satellite system emergency beacons provided land-based solutions and GME was one of the pioneers in this product category.

Designing and building EPIRBs in Australia for over 35 years, the company is now one of the largest manufacturers of EPIRBs and PLBs in the world, with product being exported to more than 40 countries.

In 2004 GME set a new benchmark in the marine safety world with the award winning MT400 406 MHz EPIRB.

The MT400 concept, evolutionary design and price point set a new standard in beacon design.

In 2010 GME introduced the MT406G, a totally compliant Class 2 EPIRB with a fully integrated 16 Channel GPS receiver, again well priced in the world market.

The key benefit of a GPS equipped EPIRB is faster detection by the geo-stationary satellites, typically less than ten minutes anywhere in Australia or New Zealand.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to see a grid searching rescue helicopter, the second very important attribute of a GPS equipped EPIRB like the MT406G, is the accuracy of the beacon’s position. By transmitting latitude and longitudinal coordinates as part of the emergency message string, searchers can pinpoint the distress message down to around 100 metres, as opposed to five kilometres with a standard non-GPS EPIRB.

Over the last 35 years literally thousands of people have been rescued from life threatening situations because they were using GME EPIRBs and PLBs.

Here are some recent examples.

In February 2010 64 Canadian students and crew were rescued from the floating classroom SV Concordia after the vessel was hit by consecutive micro bursts off the coast of Brazil. There was no time to send a Mayday before her radio communications systems submerged, however her GME Accusat MT403FF EPIRB automatically activated alerting the Brazilian coastguard, who co-ordinated the rescue.

Pacific Vision, a 13.5 m sailing vessel en route from San Diego (USA) to Bundaberg (Queensland), in July 2011 struck the Llewellyn Reef about 150 km north-east of Gladstone. The crew abandoned ship and were rescued from their life raft after initiating an emergency alert with their GPS equipped GME MT406G EPIRB.

2011 Darwin to Ambon race competitor Shady Lady sank on her return leg to Australia last August. The skipper and two crew members were plucked from their life craft in the Banda Sea after activating a GME MT400 EPIRB.

In the 2011 Rolex Fastnet race the US registered super maxi Rambler 100, skippered by George David with a crew of 21, had just passed the Fastnet Rock when disaster struck. In relatively calm but foggy conditions Rambler’s keel snapped causing it to capsize within 15 seconds, throwing the entire crew overboard.

With all Rambler’s communications equipment underwater and inoperative, crew activated their GME MT410G Personal Locator Beacons. Being a GPS equipped PLB; the MT410G’s signal was quickly received by a geostationary COSPAS SARSAT satellite, with its encoded ID and position coordinates relayed to the UK Maritime Communications Authority. Rescue helicopters and a naval vessel came to their aid.

Just a few weeks ago the 41’ steel hulled MV Intrepid was fishing just four miles off Sydney’s North Head (NSW) when it experienced a major engine room fire and began taking on water. Two fathers and their young sons abandoned ship after activating their GME MT400 EPIRBs, taking an Esky cooler for additional flotation Within 45 minutes a rescue helicopter was overhead, a life raft was dropped and they had scrambled on board a Water Police Sydney vessel.

When you think about it for even a few seconds, its plain the very most important thing you want from an EPIRB is reliability. Lives depend on them.

At their North Ryde (Sydney) facility GME's Marine Product Manager Matthew Heap and proud Manufacturing Manager John Koutsiouroumbas spoke about the importance of reliability.

Matthew Heap explained ‘We are operating in an industry segment where reliability is critically important. When you suddenly find your life is depending on an EPIRB, you want to know who built it. We are very proud that we are manufacturing all of our EPIRBs and PLBs here in Sydney on our state of the art production lines.’

John Koutsiouroumbas continued. ‘Over the decades a lot of clever, thoughtful engineering has gone into our manufacturing systems and above all our rigorous testing procedures.

‘Our circuit boards are assembled on banks of state of the art Printed Circuit Boards, PCB Pick and Place production machines.

‘There is fully computerised batch tracking data encoded onto the unit chips at every GME production stage and every GME EPIRB and PLB circuit board undergoes 24 hour temperature cycling. In total, a GME EPIRB or PLB goes through six different tests as it works its way through the production line.

‘Many of those testing procedures have been introduced into the manufacture of our other lines; in our communications and entertainment systems. Tested as they go through the production line, our entire production benefits from this and it delivers much better reliability across the range.’

Matthew Heap again. ‘GME products are engineered to operate reliably in a hostile environment. From the new product development side we have an enormous advantage because our own production engineering team is working on new products and improving existing products upgrades every single day.’

The flag ship of GME’s emergency beacon range is the GME MT406G 406 MHz digital EPIRB, which has a 16 Channel parallel GPS receiver with top mounted Quad helix antenna that typically enables location accuracy to better than 100 metres.

An auxiliary homing transmitter is also included in the MT406G, which enables suitably equipped Search and Rescue parties to home in on the distress beacon.

Unrivalled in technology and performance, this EPIRB has a six year GME warranty and six year battery life.

It has a rugged lightweight easy-to-mount compact design, ground breaking microprocessor based design and delivers unparalleled performance and value. With zero warm-up digital technology, the antenna deploys automatically when the unit is removed from the quick-release mounting bracket.

The unit features easy, in-built self-test with audio/visual alert and high visibility solid state strobe and is manually activated. Units meets Class 2 international accredited specifications and AS/NZS 4280.1 standards.

The next article about GME Marine products will spotlight some of the key products from their ranges of communications, antennas, entertainment systems, fish finders and navigation systems.

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