When operating a VHF marine radio when should the term Mayday be used?

The organizations that guarantee operations related to the sea are well organized and can be prepared for almost any mission. The seas and oceans have been the least explored territories on our planet earth since less than 1% is what could be said to be “known”.

In addition to the enormous size of the maritime areas, there are many dangers from nature itself, such as tsunamis, tidal waves, and large storms that can cause giant waves. In these emergencies, there are alerts denoted by specific words, which have been set depending on the type of emergency, such as the famous Mayday alert.

When to use the MAYDAY alert

There are several types of alerts, which are for different emergencies according to the situation. All these signals are transmitted via radio, by means of the VHS radio device. There are pre-set procedures when alerts are given through a VHS radio, so by following the set protocol, help can arrive faster. The warning signs are as follows:

  • Securite: It is a signal related to security. When this signal is given via radio, it means that navigation may be vulnerable in terms of its safety, such as, for example, that a boat has to navigate very close to a huge rock, or there is a very narrow area through which it must surf.
  • Pan-Pan: This alert signals an emergency, such as a crew member falling off the ship or the ship entering maritime areas with ship traffic or simply impassable. This alert indicates that the life of the crew is not in danger, of death, but it is an alert that asks for support to avoid a catastrophe or a true emergency where it is too late to request help. In many operations or missions, this alert tends to be confused with the highest level alert, when in reality they are for different situations.
  • Mayday: It is the highest level universal alert, as it is used in cases where people’s lives are in danger, it can be the life of an entire crew as a result of a fire or a break in the deck of the ship that is causing sinking of the ship. This signal is of total urgency since it is the life that is at risk, even in many countries joking calls or radio signals with this type of alert are strongly punished.

It is important to note the difference between these 3 alerts, because if they are not used correctly and in the correct situation, the life of an entire crew can be put at risk, or also a communication error by transmitting the wrong message.

The correct use of radio equipment VHS

To give an accurate alert, it is required to know the correct operation of the VHS marine radio equipment. VHS radios are primarily designed to communicate over short distances, approximately 5-10 miles, or also at least 20 miles from a USCG station in the United States. To be able to communicate over long distances, you must have a satellite phone or an MF / HF radiotelephone.

An emergency call has 2 parts, the signal, and the distress message. When it comes to giving the distress signal, the red button on the VHF marine radio is indicated to give the signal. This red button will give the distress signal to the nearby coast station. There are new modern radio models that, when the distress signal is sent, automatically send the exact location of the GPS, which helps to take immediate measures in case of a suspected real emergency.

The second part of the request for help with the radio is the part where the emergency code is said, like Mayday … Mayday … Mayday! when it is a really serious emergency, or it can be the other two signs according to the situation. There is a universal channel number for all emergency alerts, which is 16, taken as the standard throughout the world.

How to give radio alerts using MAYDAY alerts?

There is a specific model for transmitting the correct emergency message over the radio, which follows a specific order so that the information is universally understandable. The fixed words that are in the message are “THIS IS”, also the high alert word, “MAYDAY”. The model of the message, according to the Coast Guard of the United States of America, is as follows:

1. Tune to the appropriate channel, channel 16, to begin broadcasting your message.

2. Repeat the word “MAYDAY” about 3 times.

3. Say “THIS IS” once.

4. Name of the vessel presenting the emergency (spoken three times), followed by the vessel’s registration number, all of this must be said once.

5. Repeat the word “MAYDAY” once followed by the name of the boat.

6. Indicate the position of the ship, giving key data such as latitude, longitude, magnetic north, a reference point such as a nearby port or a small island, or add any information that is necessary so that help arrives in good time.

7. Reason for asking for help. It can be due to fire, collision with floating objects, sinking of the ship as a result of an explosion or engine failure, and among other reasons.

8. Specify the help you want. For example, you can ask for help for those injured in an accident, medical kits for people suffering from breathing, and other types of help that are prevalent at the time.

9. Number of the crew on the boat or ship. It can help a lot to specify how many crew members are women, children, or the elderly.

10. Any other information that can facilitate the rescue mission, key details, such as the specifications of the ship, such as color and model.

11. Finally, say the word “OVER”
This is a universal message structure, so it is important to have it on hand in an emergency because if the right message arrives, the right help will also arrive.
When operating a VHF marine radio, when should the term ‘Mayday’ be used?

Conclusion – when operating a VHF marine radio, when should the term mayday be used?

It is very important to know the procedures necessary to report an emergency. You should not wait until you are in an emergency to give it the importance it is due since it could be too late. It is always recommended to check the operation of communication equipment, such as VHS radios, before going sailing.


Q. Where does the word MAYDAY come from?

It is a word of French origin, which comes from the phrase ‘m’ aider’, which translates to “help me”. The phrase ‘m’ aider ’is a simplification of the original phrase “Venez m’ aider”. In 1927, the word Mayday was adapted as a distress signal for the first time, made by the Americans.

You May Like


  • www.boatus.org
  • www.navcen.uscg.gov
  • www.rya.org.uk
  • www.elconfidencial.com

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Scroll to Top