Boating Emergency – Who do you call?

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Boating Emergency

If you have an emergency on your vessel which communication device would you reach for first, your mobile phone or the VHF radio?

The majority of mariners know to use the VHF radio. Dialing 911 on that mobile phone will get you to the highway patrol dispatch center and then you need to try to describe your emergency and your exact location. Assuming your call does go through and does not get dropped as you are explaining the situation, you can only hope the operator knows something about the vast waterways of the San Francisco Bay and San Joaquin Delta. An emergency call on your VHF radio will not only be heard by other mariners in the area that may be close enough to lend assistance, but will also be heard by the USCG and other emergency services. To make an emergency call on the VHF radio follow these guidelines:

1. Make certain the radio is turned on, is on channel 16, the international hailing and distress channel, and is set to high power
2. If loss of life is imminent, press the microphone button and say Mayday – Mayday – Mayday. Use Pan-Pan instead of Mayday if the situation is severe but not immediately life threatening.
3. Say your vessel name
4. Say your location – Latitude and Longitude or nearby navigation aids or landmarks, or the direction and distance to a prominent landmark
5. State the nature of your distress
6. State what assistance is required
7. State how many persons are on board
8. Estimate the severity of the emergency
9. Describe your vessel – color, length, style, any other unique identifiers
10. Release the microphone button and wait for an answer
11. If no answer within 30 seconds repeat


In an emergency, time is of the essence, and you will want to get your message out to all stations as quickly and as clearly as possible. Speak slowly, clearly, and calmly, although that might be difficult if you have to attend to the emergency yourself while at the same time trying to get assistance.

By Captain Pat Carson