Emergency CommunicationsWhen an emergency occurs, the proper prowords should be used to show the degree of urgency when using your marine radiophone. Hearing one of these urgency calls should trigger specific responses in a listener, such as, preparing to collect information on an emergency or refraining from transmitting on the frequency until all is clear. The meaning of each urgency call is outlined below:
  • MAYDAY is a distress call of the highest priority. Spoken three times, it shows that a person, boat, or aircraft is threatened by grave or imminent danger and requires immediate assistance. Broadcast on 2182 kHz or Channel 16. A MAYDAY call has absolute priority over all other transmissions and shall not be addressed to a particular station. All boat operators hearing a MAYDAY call should immediately cease transmissions that may interfere with the distress traffic, and continue to listen on the distress message’s frequency.
  • PAN-PAN: Broadcast on 2182 kHz or Channel 16, this urgency signal consists of three repetitions of the group of words “PAN-PAN” (pahn-pahn). It means that the calling Station has a very urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of a ship, aircraft, vehicle, or person.
  • SECURITY: “SECURITÉ” (SEE-CURE-IT-TAY) is a safety signal spoken three times and transmitted on 2182 kHz or Channel 16. It indicates a message concerning the safety of navigation, or important weather warnings will be transmitted on 2670 kHz or Channel 22.
Many marine radios offer an additional audio means of sounding an alarm which consists of two audible tones of different pitch sent alternately, producing a warbling sound. If used, the alarm continuously sends the signal for not less than 30 seconds or more than one minute, and the originator of the signal should follow the signal by the radio distress signal and message. There are two primary reasons to use a radio alarm signal:
  1. To attract the attention of listeners on the frequency.
  2. To activate the automatic listening devices found on large ships and occasionally at shore Stations.
When a distressed boater is in your vicinity, receipt of the distress message should be acknowledged at once. However, if the distressed vessels position is determined to be a long distance away, boat operators should pause a few moments to allow other boats or vessels closer to the distressed vessel to reply.

In areas where communications with one or more Coast Guard shore stations is possible, you should wait a short period of time to allow the Coast Guard to acknowledge receipt of the distress signal. When involved with a distress situation on channel 16, do not attempt to change or shift to a working channel until enough information is obtained to handle the distress in case communications are lost during the change of channels.
Using your boats marine radio proficiently and knowing proper radio protocol speaks well of you the boat operator and your crew. By simply understanding how to properly use your marine radio it can alert you to safety to navigation issues, NOAA weather alerts or other emergencies in your operational area. Being aware of the basic protocol to proper marine radio operation significantly increases you and your crew’s chance of survival in the event of an emergency.

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