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How to send and receive emergency radio calls

In an emergency situation at sea, it is a top priority is to know how to send and receive emergency radio calls and alert others of your predicament. Likewise, if you receive a distress signal, you must be ready to go to the help of others.

What exactly is meant by “Distress”? Distress means that a vessel or person is in grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is needed. Under these circumstances, a MAYDAY should be sent without delay.

Note: Distress does not apply to a vessel broken down or a minor injury. Under these circumstances call the Coastguard or broadcast an urgency call (PAN PAN) on the VHF radio.

MAYDAY Distress Call

If a vessel or person is in grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is required:

  • Check that your VHF radio is on and high power setting is selected.
  • Select Channel 16 (or 2182kHz for MF).
  • Press the transmit button and say slowly and clearly:

“MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY”

“THIS IS… “(say the name of your vessel 3 times.  Say your MMSI number and call sign).

“MAYDAY, THIS IS…”(say name of vessel).

“MY POSITION IS…”(latitude and longitude, true bearing and distance from a know point, or general direction).

“I AM…” (say nature of distress eg SINKING, ON FIRE).

“I REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE”.

“I HAVE…”(say number of persons on board PLUS any other useful information – such as sinking, flares fired, abandoning to liferaft).

“OVER”.

  • Now release transmit button and listen for reply.
  • Keep listening to Channel 16 for instructions.
  • If you hear nothing then repeat the distress call.

Vessels with GMDSS equipment should make a MAYDAY call by voice on Ch 16 or MF 2182 kHz after sending a DSC Distress alert on VHF Ch 70 or MF 2187.5 kHz.

DSC Radio Emergency Procedure

  • In an emergency, press the DSC radio’s red button for 15 seconds and then transmit a voice message on Channel 16.
  • Prepare for sending/receiving subsequent distress traffic on the distress traffic frequency (2182 kHz on MF, Ch16 on VHF).
  • NOTE: The nature of distress can be selected from the DSC radio receiver’s menu.

MAYDAY Acknowledgement

In coastal waters immediate acknowledgement should be given by coastguard stations as follows:

“MAYDAY…” (name of vessel sending distress said 3 times).

“THIS IS… “(name of coastguard station, said 3 times).

“RECEIVED MAYDAY”.

If you hear a distress message and the Coastguard has not responded, write down the details and acknowledge the vessel in distress.

MAYDAY Relay

If you hear a distress message from a vessel and it has not been acknowledged, you should pass on the message as follows:

“MAYDAY RELAY…” (say 3 times).

“THIS IS… “(name of your vessel, said 3 times. FOLLOWED BY the original message).

MAYDAY Radio Silence

As soon as a MAYDAY call is heard all vessels should keep radio silence until the Coastguard or other authority cancels the Distress. The Coastguard may issue the follow message on the distress frequency:

“SEELONCE MAYDAY…” (followed by the name of the station).

When radio silence is no longer necessary on the Distress frequency, the controlling station may relax radio silence as follows:

“MAYDAY ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS”.

“THIS IS… “(name of station).

“The time….”.

“The name of the vessel in distress….”.

“PRUDONCE”.

When the Distress is over, the controlling station cancels the radio silence as follows:

“MAYDAY ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS”.

“THIS IS… “(name of station).

“The time….”.

“The name of the vessel in distress….”.

“SEELONCE FEENEE”.

PAN PAN Urgency Call

If a vessel or person very urgently needs assistance but is not in grave and imminent danger, then the PAN PAN urgency call should be used.

Vessels with GMDSS equipment should make a PAN PAN call by voice onCh 16 or MF 2182 kHz. after sending a DSC urgency call alert on distress alert frequencies VHF Ch 70 or MF 2187.5 kHz.

Vessels with DSC/ VHF radios should proceed as follows:

  • Check that your radio is on and high power setting is selected.
  • Select Channel 16 (or 2182 kHz for MF).
  • Press the transmit button and say slowly and clearly:

“PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN”.

“ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS”.

“THIS IS… “(say the name of your vessel 3 times. Say your MMSI number and call sign).

“MY POSITION IS…”(latitude and longitude, true bearing and distance from a know point, or general direction).

“I AM…” (say nature of distress eg DISMASTED, BROKEN RUDDER).

“I REQUIRE…” (eg a tow).

“I HAVE…”(say number of persons on board).

“OVER”.

  • Now release transmit button and listen for reply.
  • Keep listening to Channel 16 for instructions.
  • If you hear nothing then repeat the PAN PAN call
  • NOTE: The nature of distress can be selected from the DSC radio receiver’s menu

If you hear an Urgency call from another vessel you should follow the same radio procedure as for a MAYDAY distress call.

SECURITÉ Safety Call

A Securité safety call, normally transmitted by a Coast Radio Station or the Coastguard, usually contains important safety information such as navigational warnings and weather information. The radio station announces the call on Ch 16 or MF 2182 kHz and then issues instructions for listeners to change frequency, where the information will shortly be given.

A Securité call is given as follows:

“SECURITÉ, SECURITÉ, SECURITÉ”.

“THIS IS… “(Coastguard or coast radio station callsign, said three times).

“ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS” (said three times, followed by instructions to change channel to listen to the message).

Note: while most Securité calls are issued by coastal stations, vessels who have an urgent message for other vessels may also make Securité calls (for example if a vessel spots a semi-submerged container in the water, i.e. a danger to shipping).

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