How to contact the U.S. Coast Guard

Before you set sail, make sure your boat is equipped with all the marine electronics you need to be able to raise the U.S. Coast Guard in the event of an emergency.

Every sailor and seaman should know how to contact the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in the event of an emergency. Whether you're experiencing engine trouble or you've struck an object that has damaged your hull, you'll want to be able to call the USCG to lend you assistance, or you'll be stranded without help. Before you head out on your next voyage, make sure you know the proper procedure for contacting them.

To begin with, you should have a VHF radio on your boat - possibly even two, just to be safe. If one radio fails, having a backup could end up saving your crew. The farther out you plan to sail or motor, the more marine electronics you should carry, including an MF/HF radiotelephone, mobile satellite telephone and an emergency position beacon that can radio your coordinates to passing vessels.

When contacting the USCG over VHF or MF/HF, you should follow these steps as described on the USCG website:

  • For VHF, tune it to channel 16. If you're using your MF/HF because you're beyond the range of VHF signals from shore, set your MF/HF radiotelephone to 2182 kHz and send the alarm signal.
  • Say "MAYDAY" three times, then "This is [the name of your vessel, again repeated three times]." Let them know your call sign or boat registration number.
  • Repeat "MAYDAY," as well as the name of your boat, once more.
  • Tell them your location with latitude and longitude, along with your distance from any nearby landmarks. You should also indicate your speed, heading and destination.
  • Let them know the reason for the distress call, how many people are on board, any information they may need to know about the situation, and conclude the call with "OVER."

If your boat is not currently equipped with VHF or MF/HF radios, you should purchase these marine instruments today for the safety of you and your crew. You'll find the highest quality communications equipment at ePal, the leading marine supplier.

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