Distress, urgency and calls

Special calls are used in cases of distress and urgency and must be properly understood and used.

DISTRESS: the radio-telephone distress signal MAYDAY is used to indicate that a vessel, aircraft or person is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.

URGENCY: the radio-telephone urgency signal PAN PAN is used to indicate that a vessel has a very urgent message to transmit about its safety – such as loss of steering.

All emergency distress calls – VHF channel 16 or cell phone *500.

Note: when MAYDAY is not warranted but urgency is required for the safety of the vessel or person, the urgency signal PAN PAN should be used. Distress and urgency calls and messages must be cancelled if assistance is no longer required or when the incident is over.

Radio distress calling

The distress call should be followed immediately by the distress message. This message consists of:


Radio distress calling.


Other ways to signal distress

There are a number of other ways to signal that you are in distress on the water. These include:

  • Slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering your arms outstretched to each side.
  • Continuously sounding a fog horn or siren.
  • Using a hand-held flare or parachute flare showing a red light.
  • Signalling SOS by any signal method, including sound, light or mirror. The SOS signal is: three shorts, three longs, three shorts.

Use these signals only to indicate distress.

Who to call when you have a problem

  • Offshore: Call Maritime radio (details in the Radio Stations section).
  • Coastal: Call Maritime radio, Coastguard radio, or an independent coast radio station (details in the Radio Stations section).
  • Within the harbour: Coastguard radio, independent radio, the Police (phone 111). *Whangārei has a harbour radio VHF to advise on shipping movements (details in the Radio Stations section).
  • Marina or wharf problem: Marina owner or Far North Holdings Ltd (current phone numbers are listed in the White Pages).
  • Problem with aids to navigation, water quality, oil spills, or a navigational incident: phone the Northland Regional Council 24/7 hotline on free phone 0800 504 639.
  • Whale stranding, marine mammals or marine reserve infringements: call the Department of Conservation on free phone 0800 362 468.
  • Ministry of Primary Industries (Fisheries): report illegal fishing activities free phone 0800 476 224, general enquiries 0800 00 83 33 or Whangārei 09 470 0580.