American Marine Insurance suggests membership in an on-water assistance organization such as Sea Tow or Boat U.S.. These organizations provide non-emergency and emergency services such as salvage…


How to Radio for Help in a Life-Threatening Emergency

In the event of fire or sinking rapidly with people on board, or someone in imminent danger of bodily injury or death, call Mayday for U.S. Coast Guard assistance:


  • The Coast Guard will respond as well as notify state and local search and rescue units in your vicinity for their response.
  • The Coast Guard transmits an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast over marine-band VHF-FM radio Channel 16, notifying all vessels in the area of your emergency. In many cases a nearby Good Samaritan will be first on the scene to render assistance.
  • A Mayday should be transmitted via marine-band VHF-FM radio Channel 16 or 2182 kHz MF/SSB
  • Emergencies can go from bad to worse in seconds so try to get as much information across in as little time as possible.
  • International Maritime Organization protocols call for beginning the transmission with the word “Mayday” repeated three times, followed by the name and number of your vessel and its position.
  • If you have a marine GPS, relate the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. If not, state your distance and magnetic or true bearing from the closest navigational landmark. If time allows, you can also relay your departure point, departure time and the speed at which you were traveling.
  • Once you’ve made contact and given your information, Coast Guard Search and Rescue planners will keep you advised of their actions and give you an estimate of when rescue units will arrive on the scene.
  • If you have a medical emergency, assign someone to monitor the radio from the time you make the call until the rescuers are on the scene.
  • The Coast Guard will direct you to the nearest safe haven and advise you on what actions you should take in the interim.
  • The Rescue Coordination Center or local Coast Guard station may deploy a helicopter, rescue vessel or nearby commercial ship, depending on your location, local weather, availability of crew and equipment and nature of the emergency.
  • When the Coast Guard receives your Mayday, the Mission Coordinator will determine your degree of danger by considering several factors:
    • The nature of your situation and the gear on board your vessel (first aid kit, food, water, life jackets.),
    • The accuracy of your position, the tide, visibility, current and sea conditions, present and forecasted weather, and special considerations (e.g., age, health, distress of those on board),
    • Whether you have reliable communications and the potential for the situation to deteriorate further.
  • If a helicopter is dispatched, be sure to
    • Secure all loose items on deck (helicopter rotor wash is very powerful and unsecured items may turn into flying projectiles.)
    • Lower and secure any sails, remove any equipment that may snag the line attached to the rescue basket, and make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket.
    • The helicopter is likely to approach your boat on the port stern quarter, because it gives the pilot optimal visibility from the cockpit. So unless instructed otherwise, set your course so that the wind is 45 degrees off your port bow.
    • Never shine a light or strobe directly toward the helicopter, and never fire flares in the vicinity of the helicopter.
    • Wait for the rescuers to tell you what to do, and then do it. .


You can help improve response time by upgrading to a Marine-Band VHF-FM radio equipped with digital selective calling (DSC). When properly registered with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number and interfaced with GPS, the DSC radio signal transmits vital information – vessel name, position, owner/operator’s name and the nature of the distress (if entered) – with one push of a button.


With gratitude to USCG, See