Boat Emergency Communication

The friendliest place on the web for anyone with an RV or an interest in RVing!
If you have answers, please help by responding to the unanswered posts.

Steve CDN

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 31, 2005
Posts
2,388
Location
Canada/U.S.A
When going on a very large boat (for a novice) as a guest, the concern I have is how emergency messages are conveyed in order to get help.? The owner, should I say "skipper" of the boat is well versed, I'm sure, but what it the skipper, heaven forbid, should succumb to a serious medical emergency.

What does the guest do?? ?What does one reach for?? Is my cell phone of any use out there?

If the boat is running, what should the uninitiated guest do to save the skipper, the boat and ...the day???
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,064
Good question Steve, and one that's not limited to unseasoned boaters. I hear lots of poor communications from boat skippers. A real example that I was listening to recently right after an on-the-water fireworks display:

Vessel: I'm in a 50 foot boat and I'm on the rocks, Coast Guard come right now!

USCG SFO: Skipper, can you give me a location?

Vessel: I just left the fireworks.

USCG SFO: Skipper, there were lots of fireworks displays tonight, could you give me a geographic location?

Vessel: Near xxxxx (a non-existent location).

Rescue boat that happened to be in the area: USCG, based on the strength of his signal, he's here near abc (correct location), nowhere near SFO. I'm going to his aid.

Here's a guy navigating a congested waterway at night,  who had inadequate navigation aids &/or skills, who gets in trouble, can't articulate (or doesn't know) where he is, and doesn't know how to communicate with rescue services. A simplified version of the correct procedure, using VHF channel 16, would have been something like:

"Coast Guard station Rio Vista" (not SFO) - repeat 3 times, "this is the vessel WhatsHerName".

Wait for response and say "I'm located at xxxx and this is the nature of my distress".

Folks often misuse the call "Mayday", which should be used only when life is threatened.

Of course, this is easy to say sitting here at my PC, but in a real emergency many folks would react quite differently. In the event of the skipper and mate being incapacitated, it's highly unlikely that a guest on board would have a clue how to correctly use the radio to summon help. The ability to use a cell phone would very much depend on location of the vessel and distance from the nearest tower.
 

Steve CDN

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 31, 2005
Posts
2,388
Location
Canada/U.S.A
I read somewhere a digital ID can be implanted in a marine VHF transceiver to identify the boat, is this correct and if so, who can decipher it and how?  I suppose a cell phone is better than nothing, as  long as you are within range of a local cell, but other boaters could not hear you.  I suppose the GPS feature of cell phones might help if contact could be made.
 

John From Detroit

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 12, 2005
Posts
24,322
Location
Davison Michigan
Digital or CW identifiers (CW is ham talk for Morse Code) can be implanted in ANY radio transmitter with the possible exception of some that are so small and dense that there is no room for the chip, yes chip, just one, and it's small.

The most important things in an emergency are LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, then comes the nature of the emergency and the landmarks (In the case of a boat the water mark, or a description of the boat)

Example, Red over White Kingfisher

Location, If you got GPS, give it, the coast guard knows GPS,

Nature of the emergency  "Medical, the skipper appears to be having a heart attack",  "We are taking on water"  "Out of gas"

and again these are only examples.

As to how to summon help... There is an actuall FAA (Avation) Rule that applies in most cases

"Do what you have to do to get help and notify the proper authorities ASAP"

Generally if you pick up a mic on a marine radio and say HELP, SOS or MAYDAY you WILL get a response, may not be what you expect but you will get a response... IF, that is, the radio works

NOTE: Not everybody, and this includes emergency dispatchers such as myself, know what those upper case words in the above sentence mean... I do, (And they mostly all mean the same thing) One of my co-workers had to have it explained
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,064
John In Detroit said:
There is an actuall FAA (Avation) Rule that applies in most cases

I think you're talking about FCC guidelines. Used to be that marine RT's had to have an FCC licence, but they did away with the licencing requirements quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, all too many folks use the VHF radio as a CB, illegal or not.

Generally if you pick up a mic on a marine radio and say HELP, SOS or MAYDAY you WILL get a response, may not be what you expect but you will get a response

Nothing happens until you press the talk button on the mic. Also, whether you receive a response depends very much on which channel you're on. Emergency services monitor channel 16 and maybe channel 22 (USGS & local sheriff)) and channel 5 (USGS air support). Someone unfamiliar with local channels in use could, for example, call on channel 70 (port operations) in an area where there are no port operations and nobody is listening.

Anyone calling Mayday with no life at risk willl be politely told to refrain from doing so.

[edit]Oops, forgot that channel 70 has been turned over to Digital Selective Calling.[/edit]
 

John From Detroit

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 12, 2005
Posts
24,322
Location
Davison Michigan
Thanks for the channel numbers Tom....

Most ship's communications officers (In the case of a "Ship" more properly called a "Boat" this would be the skipper) will keep the radio on an "Active" channel most of the time.  Simply because he may have folks calling him to warn of dangers and the like.

And I do agree... No life in danger you should not be using emergency (Which is federally defined as meaning immenet loss of LIFE) calls, instead "priority" which is loss of property or possible loss of life down the road a ways

Captain has a broken leg and needs to go hospital,,, Someone else is able to pilot  PRIORITY (no danger of loss of life)

Captain has heart attack and nobody knows CPR or how to pilot  EMERGENCY (help needed and I mean NOW or someone dies)
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,064
Steve said:
I read somewhere a digital ID can be implanted in a marine VHF transceiver to identify the boat

Steve, you may be referring to what is known as a Maritime Marine Service Identity which is required for use with Digital Selective Calling. DSC is a feature which can send your position to another vessel or land-based station, but only if your DSC radio is connected to a GPS receiver.

More info on maritime communications is available at this page of the FCC web site.
 

Steve CDN

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 31, 2005
Posts
2,388
Location
Canada/U.S.A
It seems some cell phone providers offer a *16 service, which connects you to the nearest Marine Communications and Traffic Services Center.  Is this a Canadian service or is it available in the U.S as well?
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,064
Haven't heard of that Steve, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Prior to cell phones we used to use the marine operator for ship to shore communications.
 

John From Detroit

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 12, 2005
Posts
24,322
Location
Davison Michigan
Steve said:
Is the emergency term  pan pan still in use and if so what does it signify.

PAN is still used and is the same as PRIORITY, Immed danger to property, possible long term danger to life but nothing immenet

Example.  Fire in unoccupied building

As I said earlier, EMERGENCY (MAYDAY or SOS) is where there is immed danger to life: Example, same fire, buoilding occupied
 

1996terry

Active member
Joined
Aug 16, 2005
Posts
25
Location
Northern Saskatchewan, Canada
Yes the *16 thing does exist because whe nI took the boat safety course here, there was mention of it in the coast guard training book thing that I read before taking the test. However, using the radio will probably be better, though a cell phone is better then nothing.
 

Tom

Administrator
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Posts
48,064
Jeff

A cell phone will work in inland waters or close to shore in the ocean. But, if you're far enough offshore, a cell phone won't work, whereas a 25 watt VHF marine radio on the marine band can communicate with shore for quite a few miles out. The U.S. Coastguard has antennae that will pick up such signals. Further offshore requires something like a single sideband radio.
 

Karl

Moderator Emeritus
Joined
Mar 3, 2005
Posts
5,154
Location
Elkhart Lake, WI for the summer. Work at Road Amer
A slight varation of what Steve said: "Pan" usually repeated 6 times, signifies imminent if not immediate danger to persons or property, whereas "Mayday" repeated 3 times indicates an immediate danger such as currently sinking or listing dangerously, man overboard, or fire out of control. Most commercial and all military vessels will have both VHF and UHF radio among others. Frequencies to remember are 121.5mHz for VHF and 243mHz for UHF. These are international distress frequencies for all types of vessels; both sea and air. If you are forced to make the emergency call, there are a few things to remember. First, The radios wil almost surely be set to the frequency of someone who is monitoring them. Don't arbitrarily fiddle with the dials; pick up the microphone and start saying your message, then wait at least 15 seconds for a response before keying the mike again. No one is going to fault you for using "Mayday" when it should have been "Pan". Don't worry about it. Make sure your message includes the name or other i.d. of the vessel, current location (if known), the nature of your emergency, any life-threatening injuries, and what assistance is required. If you don't know your present location, say so and say you will give a "slow 10 count" and then do so. This will help them triangulate your position even if they don't respond verbally because you may be able to transmit, but not receive. Above all, remain calm and wait a reasonable time between your transmissions 'cause while you're transmitting, you can't receive! Follow instructions and if you don't understand how to do something, tell them - they can talk you through it.

That being said, the chances of you actually having to make the distress call are very slim. Almost all shipboard and airline personnel are trained in emergency procedures and the chances of them all being out of commission are quite small.
 
Top Bottom