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Subelement B
Communications Procedures
Section 10
Distress Communications
What information must be included in a Distress message?
  • Name of vessel.
  • Location.
  • Type of distress and specifics of help requested.
  • Correct Answer
    All of the above.

What information must be included in a Distress message?

(D). All of the above.

Distress message should include:

  • Name of vessel.
  • Location.
  • Type of distress and specifics of help requested.

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47 Chapter I Subchapter D Part 80 Subpart G Distress, Alarm, Urgency and Safety Procedures

§ 80.314 Distress communications.

47 CFR 80.314(a) The international radiotelephone distress signal consists of the word MAYDAY, pronounced as the French expression “m'aider”.

47 CFR 80.314(b) These distress signals indicate that a mobile station is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance.

47 CFR 80.314(c) The radiotelephone distress call consists of:

47 CFR 80.314(c)(1) The distress signal MAYDAY spoken three times;

47 CFR 80.314(c)(2) The words THIS IS;

47 CFR 80.314(c)(3) The call sign (or name, if no call sign assigned) of the mobile station in distress, spoken three times;

47 CFR 80.314(c)(4) Particulars of the station's position;

47 CFR 80.314(c)(5) The nature of the distress;

47 CFR 80.314(c)(6) The kind of assistance desired; and

47 CFR 80.314(c)(7) Any other information which might facilitate rescue, for example, the length, color, and type of vessel, or number of persons on board.

47 CFR 80.314(d) The procedures for canceling false distress alerts are contained in § 80.335.

Suggested Mayday procedure

  1. Calling “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”

  2. “This is [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]” (spoken three times)

  3. “Mayday [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]”

  4. “My position is ... [Details of the ship’s position]”

  5. “My vessel is ... [Nature of distress and assistance required is identified]”

  6. “I have ... [Other information including number of persons on board]”

For additional info, please see Making a Distress Call

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What are the highest priority communications from ships at sea?
  • All critical message traffic authorized by the ship’s master.
  • Navigation and meteorological warnings.
  • Correct Answer
    Distress calls are highest and then communications preceded by Urgency and then Safety signals.
  • Authorized government communications for which priority right has been claimed.

What are the highest priority communications from ships at sea?

(C). Distress calls are highest and then communications preceded by Urgency and then Safety signals.

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47 Chapter I Subchapter D Part 80 Subpart
C - Operating Requirements and Procedures

§ 80.91 - Order of priority of communications.

47 CFR 80.91(a) All stations in the maritime mobile service and the maritime mobile-satellite service shall be capable of offering four levels of priority in the following order:

  • (1) Distress calls, distress messages, and distress traffic.
  • (2) Urgency communications.
  • (3) Safety communications.
  • (4) Other communications.

47 CFR 80.91(b) In a fully automated system, where it is impracticable to offer all four levels of priority, category 1 shall receive priority until such time as intergovernmental agreements remove exemptions granted for such systems from offering the complete order of priority.

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What is a Distress communication?
  • Communications indicating that the calling station has a very urgent message concerning safety.
  • Correct Answer
    An internationally recognized communication indicating that the sender is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance.
  • Radio communications which, if delayed, will adversely affect the safety of life or property.
  • An official radio communication notification of approaching navigational or meteorological hazards.

What is a Distress communication?

(B). An internationally recognized communication indicating that the sender is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance.

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47 Chapter I Subchapter D Part 80 Subpart
A - General Information

§ 80.5 Definitions.

47 CFR 80.5 Distress signal The distress signal is a digital selective call using an internationally recognized distress call format in the bands used for terrestrial communication or an internationally recognized distress message format, in which case it is relayed through space stations, which indicates that a person, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance.

  • (1) In radiotelephony, the international distress signal consists of the enunciation of the word “Mayday”, pronounced as the French expression “m'aider”. In case of distress, transmission of this particular signal is intended to ensure recognition of a radiotelephone distress call by stations of any nationality.

  • (2) For GMDSS, distress alerts result in an audible alarm and visual indication that a ship or person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance. These automatic systems contain sufficient information in the distress alert message to identify the vessel, prepare to assist and begin a search. However, except when transmitted via satellite EPIRB, the distress alert is just the initial call for help. Communication between the vessel or person in distress and the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) or ship assisting should always follow.


The distress calls at sea are detailed by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and also by the International Code of Signals. See IMO's article on COLREGs
Also, see FlagAndBanner' site on International Code of Signals.

Mayday-type of signals can be sent only if there is a grave and imminent danger to life. The urgent calls may use the pan-pan signal.

Distress signals can be in the form of:

  • Shooting Red Star Shells
  • Continually sounding fog horn
  • Visible flames on the ship
  • Firing gun every one minute
  • A sign of black ball and black square on orange background
  • Sending SOS Morse signal
  • Calling three times "Mayday."
  • Shooting red flare with a parachute
  • Dying water with any color
  • Using radio telegraph alarm
  • Producing a visible smoke
  • Turning on the position indicating beacon
  • Blasting radio telephone alarm
  • Waving your arms
  • Raising flags of black square and a ball
  • Raising flying code flags of November Charlie

For more info, see Wikipedia article Distress Signals

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What is the order of priority of radiotelephone communications in the maritime services?
  • Alarm and health and welfare communications.
  • Navigation hazards, meteorological warnings, priority traffic.
  • Correct Answer
    Distress calls and signals, followed by communications preceded by Urgency and Safety signals and all other communications.
  • Government precedence, messages concerning safety of life and protection of property, and traffic concerning grave and imminent danger.

What is the order of priority of radiotelephone communications in the maritime services?

(C). Distress calls and signals, followed by communications preceded by Urgency and Safety signals and all other communications.

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47 Chapter I Subchapter D Part 80 Subpart
C - Operating Requirements and Procedures

§ 80.91 - Order of priority of communications.

47 CFR 80.91(a) All stations in the maritime mobile service and the maritime mobile-satellite service shall be capable of offering four levels of priority in the following order:

  • (1) Distress calls, distress messages, and distress traffic.
  • (2) Urgency communications.
  • (3) Safety communications.
  • (4) Other communications.

47 CFR 80.91(b) In a fully automated system, where it is impracticable to offer all four levels of priority, category 1 shall receive priority until such time as intergovernmental agreements remove exemptions granted for such systems from offering the complete order of priority.


YouTube Video: The Sailing Vagabond Epicurean has a good overall video worth watching called VHF - An interview with the US Coast Guard and some basic procedures

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The radiotelephone Distress call and message consists of:
  • MAYDAY spoken three times, followed by the name of the vessel and the call sign in phonetics spoken three times.
  • Particulars of its position, latitude and longitude, and other information which might facilitate rescue, such as length, color and type of vessel, and number of persons on board.
  • Nature of distress and kind of assistance required.
  • Correct Answer
    All of the above.

The radiotelephone Distress call and message consists of:

(D). All of the above.

Distress call includes:

  • MAYDAY spoken three times, followed by the name of the vessel and the call sign in phonetics spoken three times.

  • Particulars of its position, latitude and longitude, and other information which might facilitate rescue, such as length, color and type of vessel, and number of persons on board.

  • Nature of distress and kind of assistance required.

Suggested Mayday procedure

  1. Calling “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”

  2. “This is [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]” (spoken three times)

  3. “Mayday [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]”

  4. “My position is ... [Details of the ship’s position]”

  5. “My vessel is ... [Nature of distress and assistance required is identified]”

  6. “I have ... [Other information including number of persons on board]”

For additional info, please see Making a Distress Call

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What is Distress traffic?
  • Correct Answer
    All messages relative to the immediate assistance required by a ship, aircraft or other vehicle threatened by grave or imminent danger, such as life and safety of persons on board, or man overboard.
  • In radiotelephony, the speaking of the word, “Mayday.”
  • Health and welfare messages concerning property and the safety of a vessel.
  • Internationally recognized communications relating to important situations.

What is Distress traffic?

(A). All messages relative to the immediate assistance required by a ship, aircraft or other vehicle threatened by grave or imminent danger, such as life and safety of persons on board, or man overboard.

The distress calls at sea are detailed by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and also by the International Code of Signals. See IMO's article on COLREGs
Also, see FlagAndBanner' site on International Code of Signals.

Mayday-type of signals can be sent only if there is a grave and imminent danger to life. The urgent calls may use the pan-pan signal.

Distress signals can be in the form of:

  • Shooting Red Star Shells
  • Continually sounding fog horn
  • Visible flames on the ship
  • Firing gun every one minute
  • A sign of black ball and black square on orange background
  • Sending SOS Morse signal
  • Calling three times "Mayday."
  • Shooting red flare with a parachute
  • Dying water with any color
  • Using radio telegraph alarm
  • Producing a visible smoke
  • Turning on the position indicating beacon
  • Blasting radio telephone alarm
  • Waving your arms
  • Raising flags of black square and a ball
  • Raising flying code flags of November Charlie

For more info, see Wikipedia article Distress Signals

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