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Old 08-02-2013, 03:23 PM   #1
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Is It a Mayday?

Is It a Mayday?
Posted: April 1, 2012 | Boat Type: [Article Category]
Make sure distress calls indicate a real emergency.
By: U.S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue
Every day, the U.S. Coast Guard responds to more than 50 vessels in distress, saving an average of 10 lives and assisting another 25 people. Our search-and-rescue capabilities are well known, and we’re proud of our record. When recreational boaters find themselves in serious trouble — a fire aboard, capsized, caught in a storm and taking on water — our rescue teams are quick to provide assistance by launching a rescue crew and/or communicating with other vessels in the area who may be on the scene faster. The U.S. Coast Guard takes every distress call seriously.

Not every mayday or call for help proves to be a genuine distress, however. Non-emergencies, false alarms and deliberate hoaxes waste precious time, cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year, and divert resources and personnel over vast distances to rescue someone in distress who doesn’t exist. In addition, every time a boat leaves the pier or an aircraft flies in response to a distress call, Coast Guard personnel are placed at risk, regardless of the weather.

In some instances, boaters may misinterpret their actual situation and inappropriately call mayday, with the situation later classified as a false alert. Boaters may use false mayday calls as a means of checking their marine VHF-FM radios, knowing that a mayday receives prompt attention and gives them immediate feedback.

On marine radios equipped with digital selective calling (DSC), an emergency distress button triggers a coded SOS signal. If depressed accidentally, the button causes the radio to transmit an emergency alarm received by the Coast Guard and other vessels, which activates the search-and-rescue system.

False activations of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) continue to be a problem. Used properly, EPIRBs pinpoint boaters in distress and have proven invaluable during search-and-rescue efforts. As boaters sell their boats or buy new EPIRBs, however, registration information may not be updated, and occasionally old, discarded units turn up in landfills, actively transmitting their homing signals and resulting in unnecessary search efforts.

Then there are the deliberate hoaxers or unsupervised children who don’t understand the consequences of making a false report or adult boaters playing practical jokes.

It’s no “joke.” Under federal law, knowingly and willfully making a false distress call is a felony. Even if a child makes the call, parents may be held ultimately responsible. The maximum penalty for making a hoax distress call is up to 10 years in prison, a $5,000 civil penalty and reimbursement to the government for all costs incurred in the search.

Remember: A mayday call should be made over Channel 16 on a marine radio only if there is extreme and imminent danger to life and/or property; for example, your boat is on fire or sinking rapidly or someone has been injured and is in need of immediate assistance. If you are not able to communicate with anyone on VHF-FM Channel 16, activation of other distress notification devices, such as your DSC or EPIRB, is appropriate.

If your problem is serious but not life threatening — for example, your engine won’t start and you need a tow — call the Coast Guard on Channel 16 (not using the word mayday), and ask to be switched to another channel. The Coast Guard can make arrangements with a commercial tow company or can issue a marine assistance broadcast on your behalf.

Hoaxers Beware
Limiting false and inadvertent distress calls benefits rescuers and boaters alike. Consider these measures to reduce the possibility of falsely transmitting a distress call:

1. When your boat is not in use, either remove your marine VHF-FM radio or disconnect the power. (Be sure to reconnect prior to going out in your boat; you don’t want to discover you forgot it during an emergency.)

2. Never leave children on a boat unsupervised, and make sure they understand that playing with a marine radio could put other people in danger.

3. Know that boaters making false distress calls could be diverting search-and-rescue crews from life-threatening emergencies happening at the same time — to you, for example. Report suspected hoaxes to the Coast Guard at (800) 264-5980. Calls are confidential, and you can remain anonymous if you choose.

4. For accidental emergency beacon activations, you can contact the Coast Guard via marine radio on VHF-FM Channel 16, or toll free at (855) 406-USCG (8724). If you inadvertently transmit a false radio distress signal, you need to immediately cancel the alert. There is no penalty for making a mistake, only for failing to correct it.

1988 M/Y Camargue Yacht Fisher
Alaskan Sea-Duction
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Old 08-02-2013, 03:32 PM   #2
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If you can't repair it maybe it shouldn't be on the boat
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Old 08-02-2013, 04:16 PM   #3
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Mixed feelings about hesitating to call a mayday. It is generally better to call and have it cancelled than wait until you cannot make the call or complete it.

Having said that, last week offshore between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, we listened to what turned out to be a hilarious exchange between someone somewhere on a small boat. Unfortunately and typically, we could only hear the CG side of the transmissions but it wasn't difficult to fill in the other side.

A mayday call was transmitted by a small boat. The CG finally established that the problem wasn't really an emergency and asked the master if he would "please stop calling mayday, being lost is not an emergency." After struggling to drag as much information as possible from the caller, the CG watchstander finally, go the caller to tell him that the boat was on its way to Bimini.

After asking if the caller had a GPS and learning after several tries, including examples of some numbers that might be visible on a display, that if the boat did have a GPS, the caller couldn't read it anyway. The CG had the guy give a long count while they DF'd a location.

After a few minutes the CG told the guy where he was but apparently that wasn't quite good enough for the caller or quite what he expected. The CG radio operator came back with a plaintive question "Sir, what would you like us to do for you?"

Another few moments of silence since we still couldn't hear the caller, then the CG came back with a very exasperated reply "Sir, I am sorry but no, we cannot take you to Bimini."

If there was anything after that it was lost in the laughter of everyone in the wheelhouse.
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Old 08-02-2013, 05:47 PM   #4
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Rick - Very funny we all have heard doozies through the years...

I too am pretty aggressive advising people to call "Mayday" if they think they "might" be in trouble...better to get the SAR ball rolling as it does take time to get airborne or cover 30 miles in a chop in even a 47 footer. The watchstanders are usually pretty good at regulating the dispatch of resources based on the first couple of radio exchanges...though the common USCG policy is take it seriously and put forth moderate to max effort from the beginning.

I also tell people it's OK to use the word "mayday" when a "pan pan" might be more technically one's gonna spank them and if it get's people's attention ...then good.

As it's been said..."ya can't fix stupid" but based on the total lack of experience the vast majority of boaters's a wonder it's not 10X worse out things are going OK in the boating safety world...
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:10 AM   #5
Scraping Paint
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Originally Posted by psneeld View Post
Rick - Very funny we all have heard doozies through the years...
While listening to that that call and another one earlier that was almost as good, we thought that if the CG sold CDs of a typical weekend's radio traffic around here they could probably fund a new RCC.
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Old 08-05-2013, 03:56 AM   #6
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Are you really surprised?
Go to FFC (online) pay $ 60 or something and you get the RRO. There is no exam or other requirement necessary.
So how this "radio operator" should know the very basics? What is GMDSS? What is the difference between a Mayday, Pan and Securite call? What channels are reserved for special purposes and not to occupy a channel for hours etc.
This lack of knowledge you often find in combination with ignorance, overestimation and hubris. And if something goes wrong these guys call loud for mam (= CG) to help.
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Old 08-05-2013, 06:10 AM   #7
Scraping Paint
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Originally Posted by dodo View Post
Go to FFC (online) pay $ 60 or something and you get the RRO. There is no exam or other requirement necessary.
That was not the root of the problem, nor the moral of the story.

Though, it is a good parallel. Whip out the credit card or checkbook and voila, instant boat captain.

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