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.

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.

Follow the example below for the correct radio protocol when making a distress call:

Radio distress calling protocol.