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Search and rescue (SAR) for both airborne and maritime vehicles has been an area of intense investigation for many years. Current techniques include employment of small distress transmitters which provide signals that have only a limited interception capability. This can considerably increase the search time and reduce its effectiveness. With the increased availability-existing and planned-of both synchronous and nonsynchronous satellites, SAR investigations are being directed toward the application of satellites. The present paper introduces the concept of satellite-based maritime search and rescue system (SAMSARS). This is a proposed pseudonoise (PN) wide-band spread spectrum system that would operate at low power levels and coexist with operational communication satellite systems (voice or data) without mutual interference. The use of existing operational satellite spectrum, instead of a dedicated distress channel or special satellites, is a major feature of SAMSARS. Other important aspects are its capability of providing unique identification and distress information in minutes following activation of the distress transmitter and its inherent immunity to false alarms. SAMSARS can also provide position location directly when three satellites are mutually visible or indirectly, by taking advantage of a vessel's on-board derived navigation data. This paper presents concept elements such as message structure, transmitter and receiver block diagrams, and unique features of SAMSARS. The paper also presents an operational example, including sample link power budgets, and finally specifies areas for further investigation.