Monday, April 12, 2021

Mayday Planning


Submitted Photo

Submitted Photo

The worst time to think about what you need to do in an emergency boating situation is during the emergency. You will be very busy dealing with the emergency, making sure everyone on the boat is safe and trying to contact anyone for help. That is why you need to plan well in advance for a Mayday event.

First, we all know that “Mayday” is the word we need to communicate to obtain help in a boating emergency. Perhaps you even know that it comes from the French m’aider (“help me”), a shortened form of venez m’aider (“come and help me”). But do you know how to make the call and what information is suggested to be transmitted with the Mayday message? Does everyone on your boat know? Suppose the reason for the call is that you, the skipper, are somehow disabled or preoccupied with attending to the emergency. Can your spouse or children or your fishing buddy make the call for help?



Unfortunately, the answer to those questions might be “no.” Let’s start your Mayday planning before your next trip.

Your boat’s safety equipment should include a VHF radio and the required visual distress devices. A working radio will be your communication tool in the event of a serious boating problem. Always perform a radio check by calling channel 27 (for Marco Island) prior to leaving your dock. It will confirm that your radio is functioning. Check it again while you are out on the water.

Let’s take a simple example to develop your plan. You are offshore a few miles west of Cape Romano and strike a submerged object. Your boat, the “Reel Fun,” is taking on water and starting to list to one side. Your bilge pump is working, but it seems that you are taking more water in than you are pumping out. In other words, you are sinking. Here are the things running through your head: I need to call a mayday, I need to get my flares, I need to make sure everyone is in his lifejacket, I need to find a bucket to bail water. Where do I tell them I am located? My buddy really hurt his ankle. These are just a few of the problems you might encounter.

Here is what your call should be: (spoken slowly and clearly) Mayday-Mayday-Mayday This is Reel Fun, Reel Fun, Reel Fun, FL 1234 ZW (pause) Mayday, this is Reel Fun My position is: 25 50.771 N; 081 44.348 W Cape (or Romano bears 090 3 miles) Struck submerged object, taking on water Need pumps, medical assistance and tow Four adults, two children aboard One adult male with twisted or broken ankle Estimate can remain afloat for 3 hours Reel Fun is a 25-foot center console Sea Hunt with white hull and T-top. Over

That is a lot to remember in an emergency. The first part of your plan should be to write down the information known and what is needed on a 5×7 card and keep it on the boat (See the sample form). This card can also be laminated and kept near your radio for easy access during an emergency.

Why use your VHF radio and not a cell phone? Spotty cell coverage in our area is one reason, or you may be beyond cell coverage. But as Geoffrey Pagels, a Fifth Coast Guard District Search and Rescue Specialist based in Portsmouth, Virginia explains: “VHF is your direct link to the Coast Guard because the Coast Guard watchstanders at small boat stations and at the Sector [command centers] monitor those radio channels. You’ll be talking directly to the element of the Coast Guard that launches boats and planes,” and that watchstander can speak with you to get more information. Moreover, Pagels says, other nearby commercial and recreational vessels may be monitoring the airwaves and can lend a hand or communicate directly with a vessel in distress.

Things that can make this easier are additional technical enhancements to your safety equipment.

A GPS will provide you with your latitude and longitude more precisely than your guess as to direction and distance to an object. If your radio is equipped with a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) feature and you have registered your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) and have the radio connected to the GPS, simply pushing the DSC button will transmit information about your boat and its location. Additionally, the use of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) can pinpoint your location if your other electronic systems fail, or your boat does sink.

The final part of your plan should be to teach everyone on your boat how to make the call and how to operate the radio, GPS, DSC panic button and EPIRB.

It is vital to establish radio contact with the Coast Guard, a shore based station, or another vessel as soon as you determine that an emergency situation exists. Delaying a distress call because of panic, pride or indecisiveness can turn a near miss into a disaster.

For more information about safe boating courses, contact Joe Riccio at 239-384-7416 or email To schedule a free Vessel Safety Check contact John Moyer at 239-248-7078 or or call the Coast Guard Auxiliary Station – Flotilla 95 at 239-394-5911. Interested in joining Flotilla 95, USCG Auxiliary? Call Bob Shmihluk at 215-694-3305.

Keith Wohltman retired to Marco Island from New Jersey, where he spent decades on the water. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to help make boating safer around Marco and the 10,000 Islands. He has served as the Flotilla Commander and a Coxswain and is currently the Public Affairs Staff Officer for Marco Island’s Flotilla 95.


1. Check to be sure your radio power switch is turned on and select channel 16 on VHF-FM

2. Depress microphone key, speak clearly and slowly

3. Say: “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, THIS IS (vessel name)_______________________, (vessel name)_______________________, (vessel name)_______________________, (call sign)___________________ OVER.”

4. Release microphone key, briefly listen for an acknowledgment. If there is no response repeat step 3 one or two more times before proceeding to step 5.

5. Say: “MAYDAY (vessel name)____________________________.

6. DESCRIBE YOUR POSITION, DIRECTION AND SPEED OF TRAVEL. Use longitude-latitude, range and bearing from known points.





11. Length:_________ Type of Vessel:______________________________________

12. Color of hull and trim: ________________________________________________

13. Distinguishing features :______________________________________________

14. End distress message by saying:

15. “THIS IS (vessel name)________________, (callsign)________________. “Over”

16. If a 2-way communication has been established, additional information regarding onscene weather, availability of lifesaving and survival equipment, etc. should be reported. If no contact has been established, repeat all of the above steps as often as your situation permits. 17. Use visual signals such as flags, flares, lights and smoke as well as audible signals such as your horn, whistle or megaphone to assist rescue units in locating your vessel. Maintain radio watch on the designated emergency frequency.

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