VHF Radio Emergency Signals

Basic RGB


There are three levels of Emergency signal, and boaters should understand them all!

If you need get into difficulties on the water and need to hail the Coast Guard, you should always do so on Channel 16. They will then move you to one of their operating channels.


“Mayday” is the most serious emergency signal. It is used when there is an immediate danger of loss of life or loss of vessel, and calls on the people receiving it to drop all other activities and immediately begin a rescue.

When hailing a Mayday call, say “Mayday, mayday, mayday” and then your vessel name.

You should be prepared to give the following information:

WHO you are
WHERE you are
WHY you need assistance
WHAT kind of assistance you need
HOW many people are on board your vessel
SEA-WORTHINESS of your vessel: describe what systems are and are not operational.
DESCRIPTION: name, type, model, color, distinguishing characteristics
SCHEDULING (MONITORING AND CHECK-INS): How often you can check in and what channel you will use. The Coast Guard will ask you how long you think you will have radio contact.


“Pan-Pan” is used in situations that are urgent, but non-life-threatening.

Examples might include the following:

  • low oil pressure
  • running out of fuel
  • small fire on board—now extinguished
  • unsure of position
  • man-overboard recovery
  • overdue vessel
  • seeking medical advice for a condition that does not seem life-threatening


“Sécurité” is used for navigational safety advice, such as navigational advisories and closures, storms, weather, military maneuvers, etc.

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