Distress equipment is a must for every mariner and vessel, and the team at Wolff Marine Supply will help you determine which pieces of equipment you should have aboard. Visit our store or call us to discuss your requirements.
Signals and Communications
Sailing is not all solitude. There comes a time, if just for safety's sake, when you need to communicate with others, and the following information will help you when that time comes.
VHF (Very High Frequency) Radio
Every cruising boat should have either a stationary or hand-held VHF radio. Each VHF radio is considered a radio station by the Federal Communications Commission. Channel 16 is used for emergencies and for hailing. Law enforcement agencies and the Coast Guard monitor channel 16. Although you hail on channel 16, you never use it for conversation. Immediately communicate with the party you hail and arrange to switch to another "working" channel.
VHF Channel for U.S. Radio Users
Distress, safety, hailing: 16
Intership safety: 6
Coast Guard communications: 22A
Port operations: 1, 5, 65A, 6A, 12, 73, 14, 74, 63, 20, 77
Navigational: 13, 67
Non-commercial: 68, 9, 69, 71, 78A, 72
Commercial: 1, 7A, 8, 9, 10, 18A, 19A, 79A, 67, 77, 80A, 88A, 63
Public correspondence: 24, 84, 25, 85, 26, 86, 27, 87, 28
How to Make a Distress Call
The distress call consists of:
• The distress signal MAYDAY (spoken three times);
• The words THIS IS (spoken once); and
• The call sign or name of the vessel in distress (spoken three times).
The distress message follows immediately and consists of:
1. The distress signal MAYDAY;
2. The call sign and name of the vessel in distress;
3. The particulars of its position (latitude and longitude, or true bearing and distance from
a known geographical position);
4. The nature of the distress;
5. The kind of assistance desired;
6. The number of persons aboard and the condition of any injured;
7. The present seaworthiness of the vessel;
8. A description of the vessel (length, type, cabin, masts, power, color of hull,
superstructure, trim, etc.);
9. Any other information which might facilitate the rescue, such as display of a surface-to-air
identification signal or a radar reflector;
10. Your listening frequency and schedule; and
11. THIS IS (call sign and name of vessel in distress). OVER.
A Few Notes on Distress Calls
• Only use MAYDAY when loss of life or vessel is imminent.
• Use PAN PAN (pronounced "pon-pon") when you have an urgent message concerning safety of a person or vessel.
• Use SECURITE (pronounced "say-curatay") when you have a message about navigational
safety or weather.
Using the phonetic alphabet when spelling over the airwaves is a key part of being easily understood. For reference, we’ve provided the phonetic alphabet here.
A – Alpha
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Hotel
I – India
J – Juliet
K – Kilo
L – Lima
M – Mike
N – November
O – Oscar
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S - Sierra
T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
Y – Yankee
Z – Zulu