Since its establishment in 1959, IMO and its Member Governments, in close co-operation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international organizations, notably the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) and the Cospas-Sarsat partners, have striven to improve maritime distress and safety radiocommunications, as well as general radiocommunications for operational and personal purposes.

Ship radiocommunications entered a new era on 1 February 1999 with the full implementation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS); an integrated communications system using satellite and terrestrial radiocommunication systems.    

Under the GMDSS, all passenger ships and all cargo ships over 300 gross tonnage on international voyages have to carry specified terrestrial and satellite radiocommunications equipment for sending and receiving distress alerts and maritime safety information, as well as for general communications. The regulations governing the GMDSS are contained in Chapter IV of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974.

SOLAS Chapter IV is currently under review as part of the modernization plan of the GMDSS. This includes also all related and consequential amendments to other existing instruments, such as performance standards, guidelines and recommendations. The review is expected to be completed in 2021 so that the amendments can be adopted in time for entry into force in 2024.