The role of emergency communication procedures
The role of emergency communication procedures

Effective emergency communication is crucial for ensuring the safety of you and your family while out on the open water. Learn how to prepare and stay informed in case of an emergency with our latest blog post.

The Role of Emergency Communication Procedures

Sailing the open seas with your family is an incredible adventure, but it’s essential to be prepared for any situation that may arise. One of the most critical aspects of sailing is ensuring that you have a reliable and effective communication system in place, especially in the event of an emergency. In this article, we will explore the role of emergency communication procedures, the various methods and equipment available, and how to use them effectively to keep your family safe while sailing.

Table of Contents

Why Emergency Communication Procedures are Important

When you’re out on the open water, it’s crucial to have a plan in place for communicating with other vessels, the coast guard, and rescue services in case of an emergency. Effective communication can mean the difference between a minor incident and a life-threatening situation. By understanding and implementing emergency communication procedures, you can ensure that you’re able to quickly and efficiently relay vital information to those who can help, potentially saving lives and property.

VHF Radio: The Primary Communication Tool

The most common and essential communication tool for sailors is the VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. VHF radios are designed for short-range communication, typically up to 30 nautical miles, depending on the equipment and conditions. They are used for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication, as well as for communicating with rescue services and other authorities.

When selecting a VHF radio for your boat, it’s essential to choose a model that is waterproof, has a long battery life, and is easy to use. Many modern VHF radios also include features such as GPS, Digital Selective Calling (DSC), and Automatic Identification System (AIS) capabilities, which can significantly enhance your communication capabilities and safety at sea.

Emergency Radio Frequencies

There are several designated emergency radio frequencies that you should be familiar with when sailing. These frequencies are reserved for distress, safety, and calling purposes and are monitored by the coast guard and other maritime authorities.

  • Channel 16 (156.800 MHz): This is the international distress, safety, and calling frequency for VHF marine radio. It is used for initiating contact with other vessels or shore stations and for broadcasting distress calls. Once contact is established, you should switch to a working channel to continue communication.

  • Channel 70 (156.525 MHz): This channel is reserved for Digital Selective Calling (DSC) distress alerts and is monitored by the coast guard and other vessels equipped with DSC-capable radios.

  • Channel 6 (156.300 MHz): This channel is used for intership safety communications and is often used by ships to coordinate search and rescue operations.

It’s essential to regularly check your VHF radio to ensure it is functioning correctly and that you can receive and transmit on these emergency channels.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is a feature found on many modern VHF radios that allows you to send a preformatted distress alert to other vessels and rescue authorities with the push of a button. This alert includes your vessel’s identification, position, and the nature of the emergency, allowing for a faster and more efficient response.

To use DSC, you will need to obtain a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number for your vessel. This unique nine-digit number is used to identify your boat in the DSC system and can be obtained through your national maritime authority or a local boating organization.

Once you have your MMSI number, it’s essential to enter it into your VHF radio and ensure that your radio is connected to a GPS receiver. This will allow your radio to automatically include your position in any DSC distress alerts you send.

EPIRBs and PLBs: Emergency Beacons

In addition to VHF radios, there are other devices available that can significantly enhance your ability to communicate in an emergency. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are devices that, when activated, transmit a distress signal via satellite to search and rescue authorities.

EPIRBs are designed to be mounted on your boat and are activated either manually or automatically when submerged in water. PLBs are smaller, portable devices that can be carried on your person and are activated manually. Both types of beacons transmit a unique identification code, allowing rescue authorities to quickly identify your vessel and access your registration information, including emergency contact details.

It’s essential to register your EPIRB or PLB with your national maritime authority and keep your registration information up to date. This will ensure that rescue services have accurate information about your vessel and can respond effectively in an emergency.

Satellite Communication Devices

While VHF radios are the primary communication tool for most sailors, their range is limited, and they may not be effective in remote areas or during severe weather conditions. Satellite communication devices, such as satellite phones and satellite messengers, can provide a reliable means of communication when VHF radio is not sufficient.

Satellite phones allow you to make voice calls and send text messages from virtually anywhere in the world, while satellite messengers enable you to send text messages and GPS coordinates to predefined contacts or emergency services. Some satellite communication devices also include SOS buttons that, when activated, send a distress alert to a 24/7 monitoring center, which can coordinate a rescue response.

While satellite communication devices can be expensive and require a subscription service, they can be an invaluable tool for maintaining communication and ensuring your safety in remote areas or during emergencies.

Emergency Communication Procedures

In the event of an emergency at sea, it’s essential to follow established communication procedures to ensure that your distress call is received and understood by those who can help. Here are the steps to follow when making a distress call using your VHF radio:

  1. Tune your radio to Channel 16 (156.800 MHz).
  2. Press and hold the transmit button and clearly say “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY.”
  3. State your vessel’s name and MMSI number (if applicable) three times.
  4. Say “MAYDAY” again, followed by your vessel’s name.
  5. Provide your vessel’s position, either in latitude and longitude or by giving a bearing and distance from a known landmark.
  6. State the nature of your emergency and the assistance required.
  7. Provide information about your vessel, such as its size, color, and any distinguishing features.
  8. State the number of people on board and any injuries or medical conditions.
  9. Repeat the distress call until you receive a response.

If you have a DSC-capable radio, you can also send a DSC distress alert by pressing the dedicated distress button on your radio. This will automatically transmit your vessel’s identification, position, and the nature of the emergency to other DSC-equipped vessels and rescue authorities.


Effective emergency communication is a vital aspect of ensuring your safety and the safety of your family while sailing. By familiarizing yourself with the various communication tools and procedures available, you can be better prepared to handle any situation that may arise while out on the open water. Remember, the key to a successful sailing adventure is being prepared, staying informed, and always prioritizing safety.