Distress Signals

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          Use "May Day" when imminent danger threatens life or property and immediate assistance is required. Use Pan-Pan ("Pahn Pahn") when the safety of a person or vessel is in jeopardy, but the danger is not life threatening. NOTE that VHF and 2182 (SSB) only transmit over about 20-30 nmiles under normal conditions.


  1. Review instructions for transmitting GMDSS Distress signal on each radio -VHF and SSB - See(II) and (III) below
  2. Review transmission of May Day and other distress signalling techniques (See IV and V below)
  3. Do a radio check on an appropriate frequency on each radio.
  4. Review operation of the EPIRB.
  5. Test the EPIRB.
  6. Charge the hand-held VHF


  1. Make sure GPS is on and giving a position reading on the VHF screen
  2. Lift red cover over Distress key, and press the key once. If there is no time to have the distress signal include "Nature of Distress" (steps 3-5), then hold the Distress key down for 3 or more seconds.
  3. Turn the lower left knob (Channel Selector) anticlockwise one notch to select "Nature of Distress" and then press the "Call/Set" key.
  4. Turn the channel selector anticlockwise and pick the appropriate nature of distress, then press and hold the "Call/Set" key to transmit the Distress Signal.
  5. Nature of Distress options are: Fire, flooding, collision, grounding, capsizing, sinking, adrift, abandoning ship, piracy, and man overboard.
  6. The radio will transmit the Distress signal, and afterwards emit the Distress alarm
  7. The radio will retransmit the Distress signal every four minutes until it receives an acknowledgment, at which point it will switch to Channel 16
  8. To cancel a distress call, turn off the radio.


  1. Turn on the SSB (press the "Power" switch)
  2. Push the 2182KHz button to select the emergency frequency
  3. Push the two orange-labelled buttons together (Tx Freq and Alarm) for 1 second to initiate transmission of the distress signal. Let it transmit for at least 30 seconds.
  4. Push Alarm to turn off the alarm transmission
  5. Take the microphone (black handset) and transmit a May Day
  6. If you get no response on VHF or SSB, get out the Using the SSB checklist and try to contact the Coast Guard or begin scanning SSB channels 13-37, then 43-88, (ham frequencies) and then marine frequencies 8-1 to 8-9. When you hear voices, transmit May Day


  1. Transmit May Day call on the SSB and the VHF while you still have power.
  2. Transmit using the emergency buttons of each radio
  3. Transmit verbally on VHF Channel 16 or SSB as follows:
  4. If there is no response after a few moments, repeat the above message.
  5. After transmitting a May Day or Pan Pan, and you no longer need help, you must cancel as follows:


  1. Fire red parachute or handheld flares (fire downwind)
  2. Smoke, from can or light a fire in a bucket (careful, down-wind side of boat)
  3. Waving arms above head
  4. Continuous horn, or SOS (Morse Code ..._ _ _ ...)
  5. Dye marker in the water
  6. Fly November code flag with Charlie code flag underneath it
  7. Fly orange flag with black ball and black square on it
  8. Fire a strobe light (high intensity white flashing once/second). There's one in the Ditch Bag. Also, turn the Forespar lantern upside down and it will start firing. Finally, there's a strobe light on each PFD.
  9. Turn the US flag on the stern upside down
  10. Anything else to draw attention to the boat (spray paint HELP on a sheet and tie on deck, hang from shroud, eg)


  1. Do not let a large ship come too close to your boat, or it is likely to dismast it. Make them launch a lifeboat and come to you, or fire rockets bringing lines to the boat.
  2. To get help from a helicopter, follow the directions of the pilot. Communicate over the VHF or with hand signals. The downdraft from a helicopter may make it impossible to hear and difficult to stand upright. Do not touch a wire cable from a helicopter until it has grounded in the water or on deck. Do not cleat a rope hanging from a helicopter or you will tether it.
  3. If an injured person is transferred to another boat or helicopter, write down their name and nature of injury/illness and pin it in a ziplock bag to his/her clothes.
  4. If you abandon ship, leave a note pinned to the Nav Station with your name, date of abandoning the ship, and your destination.


©2004 The Trouser Rollers. All rights reserved.
This page was last modified on:
August 9, 2009