What and When to Send a Mayday Distress Call
A Mayday is an international radio distress alert. It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by aviators and mariners. A Mayday is used when there is a grave and imminent danger to vessel, a life, an aircraft or other vehicle and immediate assistance is required.
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. Below we show you how to make a Mayday distress call.
How to Send a Mayday
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:
- Make sure the radio is switched on and the volume is turned up.
- Lift the cover of the distress button.
- Press and release the button once.
- Select the type of distress when prompted.
- 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 the alarm.
- The radio will switch to Channel 16.
- The distress message will be repeated every 4 minutes while the radio can do so until an 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.
MAYDAY BY VOICE
- Turn on the radio and make sure the volume is turned up.
- Switch to Channel 16.
- 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, Yacht Britannia, 8EDJ8, MMSI 123123123
Position: Position 50.7628° N, 1.3005° W
Nature of Distress: I am sinking
Assistance Required: I require immediate assistance
Other Information: We have 4 people on board, abandoning to the liferaft, EPIRB triggered
End Message: OVER
An acknowledgement should be received. If no acknowledgement is sent then 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. Please feel free to print off this article and keep it by your radio.
It is also prudent to make sure that all crew members are familiar with sending a DSC or voice distress call.
Related Article: VHF Radio Course
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