HOW TO USE YOUR RADIO
1. Phonetic Alphabet
Clear communication is critical when sending emergency VHF messages. To avoid any confusion, use the phonetic alphabet to spell out important information, such as your boat name and the names of your crew. Below is the NATO/International phonetic alphabet.
2. Making a Mayday Call
To make a Mayday call, tune to channel 16 and follow the instructions below. Remain calm, and speak clearly.
1. Press the PPT and say into the mike, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is (name of your boat repeated three times)."
2. Repeat "Mayday, this is (your boat name)" one more time.
3. Report your position as accurately as possible.
4. Report the nature of the emergency.
5. Report the kind of assistance required.
6. Report the number of people aboard and the condition of any injured.
7. Describe the boat (length, design, color, distinguishing marks) and her present condition and seaworthiness. The message should not exceed one minute.
8. If there is no response, repeat the entire message. If there is still no response, try another channel.
In an emergency situation that does not involve imminent danger to the boat or people onboard, follow the same procedure but substitute "Pan-Pan" (pronounced pahn-pahn) for "Mayday."
3. Important Channels
CHANNEL 16 is the distress, safety, and calling (hailing) frequency that the U.S. Coast Guard monitors continuously. All vessels equipped with a VHF must monitor channel 16 when underway and be prepared to assist in an emergency. Always initiate contact with the Coast Guard on channel 16; you'll be redirected to a working channel. Never request a radio check on 16.
CHANNEL 22A is the primary working channel the Coast Guard uses for communications with the boating public and is where severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and other maritime warnings are broadcast. The A denotes a simplex channel (ship to ship) in the USA mode, while the channel in an International or Canadian group (without the A) is a semiduplex channel (ship to marine operator).
CHANNEL 13 is the navigation/piloting channel. Locks and bridges monitor channel 13, and it must be used for navigation and piloting purposes only.
CHANNEL 6 is the ship-to-ship frequency used for safety-related communications.
CHANNELS 9, 68, 69, 71, 72, AND 78 are common working channels. Switch to one of those once you've established contact on 16.
4. Distress Calls
MAYDAY is a request for immediate assistance in an imminent life-threatening situation. If you hear a Mayday call, listen—do not transmit. Determine if you are in a position to assist. If not, maintain radio silence and monitor the call.
PAN-PAN announces an emergency when a boat and/or people are in jeopardy but not in imminent danger. As with a Mayday call, listen to the pan-pan call, determine if you are in a position to assist, and keep radio silence if you are not.
SCURIT (see-cure-i-tay) is the signal that navigation information or weather warnings will be broadcast.
VHF Radio Resources
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.