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P.O. Box 775
Medfield, MA 02052

The indispensable resource for East Coast boaters, the ELDRIDGE TIDE AND PILOT BOOK has tides and currents for ports from Nova Scotia to Key West.


Marine Emergency and Distress Calls

Peter Kuliesis

ICS flags to signal distress

ICS flags to signal distress

If you have DSC-equipped VHF radio, obtain an MMSI number and make sure your radio is installed with a connection to your GPS. This setup will enable emergency responders to know your vessel’s description and exact location.

If you do not have a DSC-equipped radio, use the following. Speak slowly and clearly. Use VHF Ch. 16 (156.800 MHz.) 

Note: MF/HF 2182 kHz, used for many years, is no longer guarded and should not be used to initiate distress calls. In addition to VHF Ch. 16 (156.800 MHz,) the USCG guards the following HF frequencies: 4125 kHz (2300-1100 UTC,) 6215 kHz (24 hours,) 8291 kHz (24 hours,) 12290 kHz (1100-2300 UTC.)

DISTRESS SIGNAL (top priority)

If you are in distress (i.e. when threatened by grave and imminent danger) transmit the International distress call on either 2182 kHz or 156.800 MHz (Channel 16) — “MAYDAY  MAYDAY  MAYDAY, THIS IS (Your vessel’s name and call sign repeated three times)”


  1. WHO you are (Your vessel’s name, registration number or call sign).
  2. WHERE you are (Your vessel’s position in latitude/longitude or true bearing and distance in nautical miles from a known geographical point. Local names known only in the immediate vicinity are confusing).
  3. WHAT is wrong (Nature of distress or difficulty, if not in distress).
  4. Kind of assistance desired.
  5. Number of persons aboard and condition of any injured.
  6. Present seaworthiness of your vessel.
  7. Description of your vessel (length, type cabin, masts, power, color of hull, superstructure and trim).
  8. Your listening frequency and schedule.


  1. Your position and the bearing and distance of the vessel in difficulty.
  2. Nature of distress or difficulty.
  3. Description of the vessel in distress or difficulty, (see item 7 above).
  4. Your intentions, course and speed, etc.
  5. Your radio call sign, name of your vessel, listening frequency and schedule.

If there is no immediate response, repeat appropriate messages above; if still no response, you may send on any other available frequency until you make contact.


Immediately discontinue any transmission. Note details in your radio log right away. Do not make any transmission on this distress channel until MAYDAY condition is lifted by the Coast Guard, unless you are in a position to be of assistance.

URGENCY SIGNAL (second priority)

If you have an urgent message to send (threat to a vessel’s safety or to someone on board, overboard or within sight), use the same procedure as above but say the word “PAN” three times. “PAN” (pronounced “PAWN”) is also used as a warning signal that a Distress Signal may be sent out at a later stage.  Morse Code signal is – (T) – (T) – (T)

SAFETY SIGNAL (third priority)

If you wish to report navigation or weather warnings (ice, derelicts, tropical storms, etc.) use the same procedure as above but say the word “SECURITY” (pronounced SAY-CUR-I-TAY) three times. Morse Code signal is – • • – (X) – • • – (X) – • • – (X)