How to Make a MAYDAY Call

 

You probably do not imagine yourself making a Mayday or SOS call, but it is good to know how to do so in an emergency. In an amazing act of government reasonableness, anyone can call on any band in a real, life- or limb-threatening emergency. I could use my handy-talkie on a military or police band, or the dedicated marine radio band regardless of my license. If you are asked to call in a distress signal by a pilot or ship captain in an emergency, you are in the clear.

Before you start calling on the radio, make sure any emergency distress beacons are activated. Ships should have an EPIRB available – never go on open water without one. Planes can set their transponder into distress mode. If you are going into the wilderness, it is probably a good idea to carry a personal distress beacon and familiarize yourself with other distress signals.

The first thing to understand is that radios are not like phones. You need to select the frequency/channel. For marine radio, you want channel 16 (156.8 MHz), for an airplane you want 121.5 MHz. If you are on a distress channel, do not talk over another person. Once you get a hold of someone, they will likely ask you to change to another channel if you can, just in case you are not the only one having a really bad day.

Now, you need to follow protocol. This is similar to the information to relay on a 911 call: Who, What, and Where.

  1. “Mayday Mayday Mayday” – Repeating something three times is an emergency signal in itself. Remember, an SOS in Morse Code is: •••–––•••
  2. “This is [ship name] [callsign]” – Always identify yourself when calling on the radio. Use the NATO phonetic alphabet for the callsign if you can.
  3. “We are at …” – give a GPS location if possible.
  4. “We are … ” State the nature of the emergency. Relay information from the pilot/crew
  5. “Callsign Over.” You should let the people listening know when you are finished, so they can transmit.

Now wait a minute and listen for a response. Do not hold down the transmit switch. You can repeat the message if you do not receive a response in a minute or two.

An example:

Mayday mayday mayday. This is the Giraffe Kilo India November Three Five. We are at Four Eight Decimal Two Five One Nine Zero Zero North by Eight Eight Decimal Three One Zero Eight Three Six West. We are taking on water and we have lost our rudder. We have 15 people aboard including four children. Kilo India November Three Five over.

Hopefully, this is news you don’t end up using. However, experience taught me that it is better to be prepared than not.

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  1. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Good stuff, but you forgot channel 9 for CB radio.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Good stuff, but you forgot channel 9 for CB radio.

    Then there’s the good old-fashioned method of yelling, “Help!  Help!”

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    If I am in the situation, I hope I am paying someone to take care of this sort of thing. 

     

    • #3
  4. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    OmegaPaladin: We have 15 people aboard including 4 children.

    Souls on board (not people)?

     

    • #4
  5. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places).  The world is a really big place.

    • #5
  6. jeffversion1.0 Coolidge
    jeffversion1.0
    @jvanhorn

    Stad (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Good stuff, but you forgot channel 9 for CB radio.

    Then there’s the good old-fashioned method of yelling, “Help! Help!”

    Make sure you throw in a third “Help!”… repeating something three times is an emergency signal in itself.

    • #6
  7. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Thanks @omegapaladin very informative. Guess who’s getting a boat? There’s a marine radio on board and a Garmin but this is very important information. I’m putting my Emergency kit together and that will definately go in there once the registration is complete and I have the numbers.

    I’m also printing & laminating this ‘table’ with water temperatures and hypothermia symptons (Lake Michigan is beautiful but cold!). I want the family trained and any guests briefed on ‘man overboard’ responses and procedures.

    • #7
  8. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    WI Con (View Comment):

    Thanks @ omegapaladin very informative. Guess who’s getting a boat? There’s a marine radio on board and a Garmin but this is very important information. I’m putting my Emergency kit together and that will definately go in there once the registration is complete and I have the numbers.

    I’m also printing & laminating this ‘table’ with water temperatures and hypothermia symptons (Lake Michigan is beautiful but cold!). I want the family trained and any guests briefed on ‘man overboard’ responses and procedures.

    Should also look at that “raw data” post if you haven’t seen it already.

    https://ricochet.com/946310/you-better-go-to-raw-data/

    Also, “emergency radio” may not be the same as EPIRB, you should have both if going offshore into oceans.  EPIRB can be located by satellite.

    • #8
  9. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    OmegaPaladin: Mayday mayday mayday. This is the Giraffe

    Give it a rest.

    • #9
  10. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words  has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.  

     

    • #10
  11. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.

     

    What about having to look up the 3 words for your position while the boat is sinking?

    • #11
  12. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.

     

    What about having to look up the 3 words for your position while the boat is sinking?

    Yep.  Totally useless when you are mobile.

    • #12
  13. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.

     

    What about having to look up the 3 words for your position while the boat is sinking?

    Yep. Totally useless when you are mobile.

    And if you’re not mobile, 911 has your location immediately if you call from a land line.  (Which is reason enough why every home should still have a land line, especially if there are children.)

    • #13
  14. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.

     

    What about having to look up the 3 words for your position while the boat is sinking?

    Yep. Totally useless when you are mobile.

    For the most part yes, but so would lat/long. Military grid to 6 digits would be easier. 

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Grid_Reference_System

     

    • #14
  15. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Don’t forget to give enough digits after the decimal place for GPS coordinates, like the examples given (six decimal places). The world is a really big place.

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square. Those three words can be used to locate you down to a 3 m² unit. Which is a lot easier than trying to find and then repeat longitude and latitude. Adoption is the issue. My suspicion is that most police departments or people that would be responding to an emergency call would have no idea what you were talking about if you told them the three words that located you.

     

    What about having to look up the 3 words for your position while the boat is sinking?

    Yep. Totally useless when you are mobile.

    For the most part yes, but so would lat/long. Military grid to 6 digits would be easier.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Grid_Reference_System

     

    Lat/Long would be on the GPS display.  Unless you get the GPS manufacturers to start adding 3-word locations to the display, that’s another step.

    • #15
  16. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    PS: The great show UFO also used grid coordinates!

     

     

    • #16
  17. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words  has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square.

    This is interesting.  This might sound a little arrogant, but I’ve been involved in some aspect of emergency communication, including the military, for nearly six decades.  Actually, I spent yesterday involved in a hospital disaster drill.  I’ve never heard of What3words, and that does not bode well for a significant number of people knowing of it to make it useful.  Also, in any emergency situation, precision down to a three meter square is needless.  See below.

    Many emergency responders, but not all, will be familiar with the military grid system.  Plus, in order for it to be useful, you need to include the map sheet name, or some lat & long data anyway.

    If you are, say, backpacking in a wilderness area, or some such, really the best system to use would be Aliquot Parts – “Section 14, Township 21 North, Range 44 East, Humboldt Meridian.  That’s what people like firefighters use.  It designates a one mile square, which for rescue purposes is usually close enough.  But people who know that system will be able to decode lat & long anyway, so . . .

    One other thing: If you reach any 911 center on a cell phone, they can activate the phone’s GPS, and know exactly where you are.

    Okay, one more other thing:  There are many apps that can tap your cell phone’s GPS, and will give you your lat & long.

    • #17
  18. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    What3words is an interesting alternative to the latitude longitude GPS coordinates. The company at What3words has taken the world and divided it into about 1 trillion 3 meter by 3 meter squares. Then they assigned three words in a unique combination to each square.

    This is interesting. This might sound a little arrogant, but I’ve been involved in some aspect of emergency communication, including the military, for nearly six decades. Actually, I spent yesterday involved in a hospital disaster drill. I’ve never heard of What3words, and that does not bode well for a significant number of people knowing of it to make it useful. Also, in any emergency situation, precision down to a three meter square is needless. See below.

    Many emergency responders, but not all, will be familiar with the military grid system. Plus, in order for it to be useful, you need to include the map sheet name, or some lat & long data anyway.

    If you are, say, backpacking in a wilderness area, or some such, really the best system to use would be Aliquot Parts – “Section 14, Township 21 North, Range 44 East, Humboldt Meridian. That’s what people like firefighters use. It designates a one mile square, which for rescue purposes is usually close enough. But people who know that system will be able to decode lat & long anyway, so . . .

    One other thing: If you reach any 911 center on a cell phone, they can activate the phone’s GPS, and know exactly where you are.

    Okay, one more other thing: There are many apps that can tap your cell phone’s GPS, and will give you your lat & long.

    Just a hunch, but don’t most police/fire/ambulance/etc services prefer a street address like they get from a land line, over lat/lon?

    • #18
  19. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Just a hunch, but don’t most police/fire/ambulance/etc. services prefer a street address like they get from a land line, over lat/lon?

    Of course.  Come to think of it, I know a retired 911 dispatch center manager.  I’ll ask her next time I see her how they would handle a location by any means other than address.

    BTW the “military” grid system is actually based on, and a further refinement of lat & long.  Aloquit parts is not.  It is based upon “Base Meridians”  But in both cases, the lat & long data appear in the map margins.  So do some plain old street maps.  BTW a section number in Aloqit parts designates a one-mile square.  It can and usually is used to describe areas much smaller, down to a few square feet, if you really want to.  But unless you’re a land surveyor, don’t.

    I just looked at What3words.  Egad! No thank you!  A single typo could move your location from Hoboken, NJ to the middle of the Indian Ocean.  And to use it at all requires that you have access to a ginormous proprietary database.  I predict that What3words will soon go the way of the 8-track.  At least I hope it does.

    • #19
  20. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Just a hunch, but don’t most police/fire/ambulance/etc. services prefer a street address like they get from a land line, over lat/lon?

    Of course. Come to think of it, I know a retired 911 dispatch center manager. I’ll ask her next time I see her how they would handle a location by any means other than address.

    BTW the “military” grid system is actually based on, and a further refinement of lat & long. Aloquit parts is not. It is based upon “Base Meridians” But in both cases, the lat & long data appear in the map margins. So do some plain old street maps. BTW a section number in Aloqit parts designates a one-mile square. It can and usually is used to describe areas much smaller, down to a few square feet, if you really want to. But unless you’re a land surveyor, don’t.

    I just looked at What3words. Egad! No thank you! A single typo could move your location from Hoboken, NJ to the middle of the Indian Ocean. And to use it at all requires that you have access to a ginormous proprietary database. I predict that What3words will soon go the way of the 8-track. At least I hope it does.

    We don’t need another proprietary ownership situation with beaucoup royalties (taxes, in a way) like already exists with medical codes thanks to the AMA.

    • #20
  21. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Stop by and sign up now for June’s theme: “Journeys.”

    There are two major monthly Group Writing projects. One is the Quote of the Day project, now managed by @she. This is the other project, in which Ricochet members claim a day of the month to write on a proposed theme. This is an easy way to expose your writing to a general audience, with a bit of accountability and topical guidance to encourage writing for its own sake.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #21