August 2010

Signaling distress

Calling for help on VHF

You understand the importance of monitoring your VHF radio while under way, but perhaps you’re less familiar with the three terms used in emergency communications: securite, pan-pan and mayday. Understanding their meanings and knowing when to use them is critical to onboard safety.

Securite: The safety alert

Securite (say-cure-i-tay) is used when conveying useful information, including potential safety risks, navigation hazards or weather warnings. You might hear: “Securite, securite, securite call Los Angeles, this is the tug Falcon Millennium with a barge in tow. We will be passing Pier 400 and crossing the flats to the Queens Gate.” Should you be nearby, it would be appropriate to post a lookout for the tug and barge.

Pan-pan: The urgency alert

Pan-pan (pronounced pahn-pahn) indicates that a vessel or a person on board needs assistance but is not in immediate danger. A typical call would be “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, this is the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has a report of a missing 24-foot fishing vessel named Jig Stop, white hull, en route from Catalina to Newport Beach. Mariners are advised to be on the lookout and report any sightings to the Coast Guard on Channel 16.”

Mayday: The distress alert

Thought to originate from the French “m’aidez” (help me), mayday means a vessel or person is in grave or imminent danger and signifies a request for immediate assistance. Mariners hearing mayday calls should immediately cease traffic on Channel 16 and stand by for further information.

A vessel that has run out of gas mid-channel is not in a life-threatening situation and should initiate a pan-pan call for assistance. The same vessel, out of gas but in danger of going aground in a surf line, is in a mayday situation.

Whether you’re a skipper or a passenger, understanding these terms and knowing how to use the VHF radio will help keep you safer on the water.

Learn more about marine radio communications by taking the Using VHF & VHF/DSC Marine Radio seminar. Find a seminar near you or purchase the USPS guide The Boatowner’s Guide to GMDSS and Marine Radio. Call 888-367-8777 ext. 0 for more information.

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Making the call

Mayday calls are reserved for life-threatening emergencies, including sinking, fires, piracy, major collisions, and some man overboard situations.

  • Make sure the radio is on and tuned to Channel 16.
  • Press and hold the microphone’s talk switch.
  • Speaking in a normal voice, say “Mayday, mayday, mayday.”
  • Say your boat’s name three times followed by your radio call sign.
  • Say “Mayday” with your boat’s name again, then give your position, either as latitude and longitude (preferred) or as a bearing and distance from a charted object.
  • Briefly describe your situation, your distress and the assistance required.
  • Describe your boat by type, color and size.
  • Note the number of people aboard and whether they need medical attention.
  • Sign off by saying “Out.”
  • Wait 10 seconds for acknowledgement of your call. If there is none, repeat the mayday call.

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