The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme, operator of one of the world’s leading satellite-aided search and rescue (SAR) systems, is looking to boost the effectiveness of SAR point of contact (SPOC) communications and understanding of message content in order to improve the ability of maritime SAR organisations to rescue people in distress.

Originally developed in 1982 but continuously modernising to reach the digital age, Cospas-Sarsat provides distress alert and location information to global rescue coordination centres (RCCs) for the maritime sector, in addition to aviation and land users. The service works closely with the International Maritime Organization through its Joint Working Group on SAR: a group that the IMRF is also a part of.  

We take the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue’ by providing a rapid and accurate location of distress incidents to SAR services on a global scale,” said Cheryl Bertoia, Principal Operations Officer at the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme.

Since its launch, the system has provided assistance in more than 17,663 SAR events, leading to the rescue of over 57,000 people. In 2021 alone, the system aided 3,623 persons in 1,149 SAR events, more than 10 lives each and every day.

Credit: Cospas-Sarsat Programme

The Cospas-Sarsat System includes over two million registered distress beacons (half are maritime EPIRBs), SAR payloads on satellites in low- and medium- altitude Earth orbit and geostationary orbit, ground receiving stations, and a global network to distribute alerts to RCCs.

The Programme is looking to boost the responsiveness of SPOCs to test communications, particularly in regions that traditionally have difficulty accessing this kind of data. Cospas-Sarsat has also developed a website providing extensive training materials for use by SAR services, including manuals and supporting video material.

In some regions of the world, RCCs have a low response rate to the messages we put out. We are always looking at ways of improving our system to aid people in distress and we are currently focusing on responsiveness of SAR services to distress messages, as well as providing training materials to assist in understanding distress message content,” said Cheryl.

Another challenge we face is beacon registration. Currently only 70% of SAR beacons of the world’s more than two million beacons are properly registered. We want to improve that number in the coming years to allow RCCs to be more effective and efficient in the rescue of people in distress,” she added.

Systems such as Cospas-Sarsat are critical elements of the maritime SAR sector as modern digital solutions look to improve the capabilities of maritime SAR organisations around the world, particularly in SAR communications.


The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme has a vast catalogue of resources on its official website to benefit the wider maritime SAR community. This includes training materials to facilitate understanding how the system works and ways to engage and get involved with the Programme. You can find out more here: