When Should You Place a Mayday Call?

No matter how well-prepared you are for being out at sea, there may come a time when a dire situation arises that you can’t handle without emergency assistance. A mayday call, the out at sea version of an emergency 911 call on land, is there for those times. A mayday call will reach the Coast Guard Search and Rescue Team, so it is important to know the difference between times when you might just need some standard assistance, versus an actual emergency rescue.

For instance, if your boat simply breaks down, you don’t need to make a mayday call. You need to call for a tow. However, if your vessel is taking on water or in danger of capsizing; if there is a fire onboard; if someone onboard has been injured and needs emergency medical attention; or if someone has gone overboard; you definitely need to make a mayday call.

The preferred method for a mayday call is on channel 16 via a VHF radio. Press and hold the transmit button and repeat, “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is (your vessel’s name),” three times. Then release the button and wait a minute for a response before trying again. You should provide a clear, concise description of your emergency, location (Exact latitude and longitude or GPS coordinates are best.), description of your boat and the number of people onboard. Say, “Over,” when you are finished.

You can also activate a satellite tracking device such as an EPIRB, set off a flare, sound your horn or blow a whistle, as well as call 911 on your cellphone if you do not have or cannot reach your VHS radio. It is also recommended that everyone on board knows how to place a mayday call from your boat in case you are unable to do so.

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