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EMERGENCY PROCEDURE WORDS

Feb 04, 2020

There are three emergency procedure words that carry extra importance when you're communicating by radio. In order of decreasing severity, they are mayday, pan-pan, and sécurité.

Emergency Words

WordDerivationMeaningWhen To UseComment
MAYDAYFrom the French "m'aidez," which means "help me"A vessel and/or crew is in grave and imminent dangerLife-threatening medical emergency; possibility of losing the boatUse for imminent danger only
PAN-PANFrom the French "panne," which means "broken"A vessel requires urgent assistanceSerious mechanical breakdown; urgent but not life-threatening medical issuesBecause it handles such a wide range of difficulties, details can be added to the transmission: "Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, this is the vessel Surprise requesting medical advice, over."
SÉCURITÉFrench for "safety"Important safety information followsInformation that could be important to another vessel's safetyCovers a wide range of issues: hazards to navigation, pyrotechnic demonstrations, Coast Guard Marine Safety Broadcasts, large vessel traffic alerts"

Through the use of these words, you will alert all mariners to the seriousness of your transmission, and to the possibility that they might be involved in lending assistance. All three are anglicized versions of French words, and each is repeated three times in succession so that those who hear the transmission understand that they're hearing an actual call for help and not a discussion of another vessel's distress call. (See additional comments on mayday relay below.)

When you hear a transmission that uses one of the three emergency words, what action should you take?

A lot depends on your proximity to the vessel or incident in question.

It also depends on your ability to respond and give assistance. If you hear a mayday and you are the most appropriate vessel to respond, you are legally and morally required to lend assistance, if you can do so without endangering your crew or vessel.