How to make a mayday call
All boaters should know how to make a mayday call as well as other distress calls using Channel 16 on a VHF marine radio.
Types of marine distress calls
During an on-the-water emergency, the quickest way to call for help is to use Channel 16 on your VHF marine radio. When making the appropriate mayday, pan-pan or securité call, you tell the U.S. Coast Guard or other receiving vessel how quickly you need help.
Mayday, the highest-level emergency call, should be used only when there’s imminent danger of loss of life or vessel.
Pan-Pan calls reflect a sense of urgency without the potential loss of life or vessel. This could include loss of steerage or power, or injuries that adversely impact your ability to safely operate the boat.
Securité alerts boaters to the broadcast of safety information. These events could include seeing a loose piling in a channel, a light out on a navigational aid, a vessel overdue in transit, or severe weather moving through the area.
How to make a mayday call
Reserve the mayday call for severe emergencies with immediate danger to life or property, such as a sinking boat, fire or life-threatening injury or illness.
When calling for help, repeat “Mayday!” three times. Anticipate the Coast Guard’s questions, and be prepared to answer them.
Give your boat’s geographical position. If you can’t provide the boat’s latitude and longitude from the GPS, look for an identifiable onshore feature or identifiable buoy or beacon from which you give your distance and direction. You could also use a chart to communicate your position relative to identifiable navigational aids.
Describe your emergency, your distress situation, and the assistance you desire. Be as precise as you can about your situation so the responder can assist you.
Describe the type of boat you are in, its color and size plus any distinguishing features that would make it easy to identify. Let the Coast Guard or other responder know how many people are on board and if any are injured or have medical conditions that need attention. Describe the boat’s condition when asked.
Saying “Over” means you have finished providing this piece of information and are awaiting a reply. The Coast Guard may request additional information and keep the radio link open. When you complete the communication, saying “Out” ends the expectation of additional transmissions.
Feel at home on the water
Learn to boat with confidence by taking the Boat Handling course online from America’s Boating Club.