Emergency Radio Procedure

It’s another week night, another meeting, and that means you need another program.  If you’re having difficulty coming up with a program to teach, a classic (not nearly as overdone as knots, but just as useful) is Emergency Radio Procedure.  Everyone needs to know this procedure, especially those out on the water frequently.  That way, in an emergency situation, it will be second nature to report the situation to the Coast Guard.

First things first, you’re going to want to know what your boat’s name is.  Let’s say it’s called Serendipity.  Now make sure you know how to spell that, backwards, forwards, and in the phonetic alphabet (see Code Flags).  This is very important, as you don’t want to be stuck on the radio with no idea how to spell your boats name.  It’s rather embarrassing, and in an emergency situation, you don’t want anything, even something as simple as this, to trip you up.

When you’re speaking, make sure you speak slowly, clearly and calmly.  This will allow the Coast Guard to understand you, and in essence, react more quickly to rescue you.

Check to make sure your radio is turned on, and tuned the correct channel.  It should already be tuned to channel 16, the channel the Coast Guard monitors 24/7, but things happen, and people bump into things, so check before you make any calls, or at least before you get too far into a call.

The next step in the radio procedure is to know what sort of call to make.  There are three kinds of radio calls: Mayday, Pan-Pan (pronounced pahn), and Security (pronounced suh-cure-tay).

When to use which:

  • Mayday: When loss of life or property is probable.
    • For Example:
      • You are sinking.
      • Someone is having a heart attack.
  • Pan-Pan: You require help, but not immediately.
    • For Example:
      • You’re motor won’t start, but you have enough food and water to last you to the next day.
      • Someone broke a bone, but it’s been temporarily splinted.
  • Security: There is a hazard to navigation of some kind.
    • For Example:
      • There is a heavy storm that people should steer clear of.
      • There is a log floating across a channel that restricts boat from passing through.

Let’s assume the worst for practice: imagine you’re on your boat (Serendipity), and you and your crewmates have just run into a submerged piling, and are now sinking.  Water’s coming in fast, and you all are forced to abandon ship.  Everyone puts on life jackets and then your crewmates throw things into the abandon ship bag, including flares, water, canned food, the navigation charts, a GPS, a handheld radio tuned to channel 16, and whistles, while you talk to the Coast Guard.  Your call should include the following:

  • (Press radio button.)
  • MAYDAY – MAYDAY – MAYDAY (Repeat distress call three times)
  • This is SERENDIPITY– SERENDIPITY – SERENDIPITY, (Repeat boat name three times)
  • MAYDAY, SERENDIPITY (Distress call, boat name)
  • LOCATION: Longitude and latitude, channel markers, landmarks, etc.
  • PROBLEM: We’re sinking.
  • PEOPLE: How many onboard, and are they ok?  If not, say why.
  • SEAWORTHIENESS OF BOAT: Nada.
  • DESCRIPTION OF BOAT: How many sails or masts, color, size, etc.
  • End by saying “This is SERENDIPITY, OVER.”
    • Be sure to ONLY say “over,” and not “over and out,” as that would tell the Coast Guard that you are listening, but also hanging up.
  • (Let go of radio button and wait for reply.)

With your amazing skills as a radio operator, you and your crewmates survived the event, and are now able to tell the tale.  So when you’re at that next Sea Scout meeting, consider teaching Emergency Radio Procedure.  Although I hope you never have to use it, I guarantee you won’t regret learning it!

Eva Hogan

National Sea Scout Boatswain

Ship 502 – Houston, TX

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