How can you call for help if you have a boat emergency at sea?

What could be a more isolating experience than experiencing a boat emergency while out at sea? Luckily, you can be prepared and have emergency communications lined up to use if needed. Some amateur seafarers have shared some boat emergency tips. Keep reading to find out how to prepare before you set sail.
Brenton Thomas

Brenton Thomas

Founder & CEO of Twibi

Marine Radio: VHF (Very High Frequency)

In case of a boat emergency at sea, you can call for help using marine radio, preferably a VHF (very high frequency) set, to broadcast a distress signal, typically via channel 16. Include important details in your call: your location, the nature of the emergency, and your vessel’s description.

If equipped, activate the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which sends a distress signal to search and rescue services. Flares or other visual signals can also be useful. Remember, maintaining communication and safety equipment in good working order is crucial for effective emergency response.

Flares and Visual Signals

In the event of a boat emergency at sea, there are several methods you can use to call for help:

    1. VHF Radio: VHF (very high frequency) radios are commonly used for communication on the water. They have a range of several miles and are monitored by coast guards, marinas, and other vessels. Tune your VHF radio to channel 16, which is the international hailing and distress frequency, and broadcast a distress call, providing your vessel’s name, position, nature of the emergency, and the number of people on board.

    2. Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB): An EPIRB is a distress beacon that can be activated manually or automatically when a vessel is in distress. EPIRBs transmit a distress signal with your vessel’s location to search and rescue authorities via satellite. Register your EPIRB with the appropriate authorities and ensure it is in working condition before setting sail.

    3. Digital Selective Calling (DSC): DSC is a feature found in many modern VHF radios and some MF/HF radios. It allows you to send a distress signal with your vessel’s identification and GPS coordinates to other vessels or rescue authorities. Make sure your DSC radio is properly connected to a GPS receiver and know how to use its distress function.

    4. Flares and Visual Signals: Carry marine distress flares on board and use them to attract attention. Flares can be seen from a distance and are recognized as a distress signal. Additionally, you can use other visual signals such as waving bright-colored flags or using a signaling mirror to reflect sunlight.

    5. Mobile Phone: If you have mobile phone coverage within range, dial the emergency services number of the country you are in. Keep in mind that the range of mobile networks may be limited when you’re far from the shore.

Remember to prioritize safety and take appropriate actions to address the emergency situation while waiting for assistance to arrive. It’s also essential to familiarize yourself with local regulations and recommended safety procedures for boating in your specific area.

Mirna Vuksan

Mirna Vuksan

Head of Marketing at FlexiPCB.
Mike Chappell

Mike Chappell

Co-Founder & CEO of FormsPal

Boat’s Distress Button

If you’re in a pickle out at sea, staying calm is key. First, you need to try radio communication. Use the very high frequency (VHF) radio, usually channel 16 is the go-to for emergencies. Clearly state your boat’s name, location, and the nature of the emergency.

Now, if your boat has a distress button (DSC or digital selective calling), that’s like the magic button; press it. It sends an automatic mayday with your location to the Coast Guard and other boats nearby.

If you’re in the high seas, using an EPIRB, which stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, is super useful. It’s a device that transmits a distress signal with your location via satellite. Make sure to have flares and other signaling devices handy as well. Remember, communication and signaling are your best friends during a boat emergency.

Activate Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

One of the most popular and dependable communication tools for sailors is the VHF (very high frequency) marine radio. Tune your VHF radio to channel 16, which is the global hailing and distress frequency, if you have one onboard. Send a distress call over the radio and include any pertinent details regarding your predicament, such as the location of your boat, the type of issue, and the number of people on board. Follow the rescue authorities’ orders and keep the radio in communication.

When activated, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a beacon of distress that notifies emergency services and satellite systems. Due to their marine-specific design, EPIRBs can be a huge help in alerting search and rescue crews to your predicament. Make sure your boat is equipped with an EPIRB that is officially registered and operational.

By pressing a button, many contemporary VHF radios have digital selective calling (DSC) features that let you send a digital distress signal. Rescuers have access to accurate location information thanks to the DSC signal, which also contains your boat’s identity information and GPS coordinates. Learn how to use the DSC distress feature and register the MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number for your radio.

Using flares as visual distress signals might draw the attention of passing ships or aircraft. Carry the proper flares or signaling equipment required by marine legislation and be knowledgeable in their use. These signals can be particularly helpful when it’s daylight or when other communication channels are blocked or rendered useless.

Use the emergency phone number for the nation you are in to contact emergency services (such as the Coast Guard or local authorities) if you have a cell phone with signal reception. Remember that if you are in a remote area or far offshore, cell phone coverage can be spotty or nonexistent.

Consider carrying a personal emergency beacon that can send out distress signals via satellite, such as a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or a Satellite Messenger. Emergency services can be notified of your position and situation by activating these gadgets.

It’s critical to remain composed and concentrated in the event of a boat emergency. As long as you can, stay in touch with the rescue team and heed any instructions they may give.

Always be aware of local laws, emergency protocols, and available communication channels in the area where you’ll be boating. In order to ensure redundancy in the event that one method fails, it is also advised to have numerous communication devices on board.

Jessica Watson

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