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How to Send a Mayday Distress Call

send a mayday distress call

When and How to Send a Mayday Distress Call

A Mayday is an international radio distress signal.  It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by aviators and mariners.  The word Mayday was first coined in 1923 and is a corruption of the French “m’aider”, a shortened version of “venez m’aider” which means “come and help me”.    It was adopted in 1927 by the International Radiotelegraph Convention to replace the SOS radiotelegraph.

A Mayday is used when there is grave and imminent danger to vessel, a life, an aircraft or other vehicle and immediate assistance is required.

There are two ways to send a radio distress alert on a yacht:


Digital Selective Calling.  Most modern VHF radios will be fitted with a DSC button including some hand-held radios. The DSC button will be labelled as a distress button and is quite often a red colour.  Different makes of radio will operate in slightly different ways:

  1. Make sure the radio is switched on.
  2. Lift the cover of the distress button.
  3. Press and release the button once.
  4. Select the type of distress when prompted.
  5. Press and hold the button for 5 seconds until “distress sent” appears on the display.  The radio may also give an audible alarm.  Press CLR to stop alarm.
  6. The radio will switch to Channel 16.
  7. The distress message will be repeated every 4 minutes while the radio can do so until acknowledgement is received.

The radio is connected to the yacht’s GPS receiver which gives the position of the yacht at the time the call is sent.  It also gives the yacht’s MMSI number.  The distress call will be received by rescue stations and other vessels fitted with a DSC system.

Once the distress call has been sent and the radio has switched to channel 16 you can then make a voice distress call if you wish and do not need to attend to casualties.  If your radio does not have a DSC button then you will need to make a voice distress call instead.


  1. Turn on the radio and make sure the volume is turned up.
  2. Switch to Channel 16.
  3. Speak slowly and clearly and use the following format:

Say the distress call 3 times:  MAYDAY  MAYDAY  MAYDAY

Name of the Yacht 3 times:  This is yacht Britannia Britannia Britannia

Call Sign and MMSI:  8EDJ8    MMSI 123123123

Repeat Information above once more:  MAYDAY, This is Yacht Britannia 8EDJ8 MMSI 123123123

Position: Position 50.7628° N, 1.3005° W

Nature of Distress:  Sinking

Assistance Required:  Require immediate assistance

Other Information:  We have 4 people on board, abandoning to liferaft, EPIRB triggered

End Message: OVER

An acknowledgement should be received.  If no acknowledgement is sent check the radio is on, the volume is up and you have selected Channel 16.  Repeat the message.

It is good practice to keep a reminder card near the radio detailing the procedure, this will ensure that the correct information is sent at a time when panic may set in.

It is also prudent to make sure that all crew members are familiar with sending a DSC or voice distress call.

send a mayday distress call

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