A distress situation is:

“A situation when in the opinion of the master, the vessel, vehicle, aircraft or person is in grave an imminent danger and requires immediate assistance

LEARN: Before the course, make sure you know this definition.

In this situation we send a Distress alert followed by a Mayday Call and Message. The sheet below highlights the procure step-by-step.

Distress Message – DSC

LEARN: Before the course, make sure you know this call and message by heart.

This is the one time when you get to press the red distress buttonto send a distress alert.

On any DSC radio you do this by:

– lifting the flap
– pressing the distress button once and release
– pressing the button a second time and holding down for 5 seconds.

The alert is a digital message which includes your MMSI number and your current position if you have programmed in your position or the radio is connected to a GPS.

If this does not make it clear, see the video below (DO NOT DO THIS ON A NORMAL RADIO UNLESS IT IS A DISTRESS SITUATION):

If you have filled in a CG66, any UK coastguard station that receives your alert will be able to cross-reference your MMSI with the details you supplied. See the Licensing and Registration page for more details.

Once the alert is sent you should wait approximately 10 seconds for the alert to be acknowledged and for people to grab a pencil (continue at this point regardless of whether the call is acknowledged).

The alert is followed up by a verbal Mayday call and message.


Mayday, Mayday, Mayday
This is Po, Po, Po
Call Sign: ABCD9; MMSI 232004876

Call Sign: ABCD9; MMSI 232004876
My position is 50°49’.71N 001°15’.46W
Fire on board
Require immediate assistance
Eight persons on board
Abandoning to liferaft

Remembering the order

Some people remember the order of the Mayday Message by remembering: MIPDANIO.

M – Mayday

I – Identification,

P – Position,

D – Distress type,

A – Assistance required,

N – Number of people on board,

I – Information (additional information that should be passed on),

O – Over.


It is important to include your MMSI number if you have sent a Distress Alert so that the coastguard can pair the message to the alert and confirm all details.

The format of the Distress Call was changed in 2011 to include the Call Sign and MMSI to aid identification.

If you give your position as a lat and long the digits should be read out one at a time with the word “decimal” used in place of the decimal place.

For example 50°49’.71N is read out as:
Five Zero Degrees, Four Niner Decimal Seven One, North

Non-DSC Radio

If you don’t have a DSC radio you simply re-tune your radio to channel 16 and transmit the Mayday Call and Message as above but of course without the MMSI number. The sheet below highlights the procure step-by-step.

Distress Message – non-DSC

How do I remember all of this?

It is all well and good revising and remembering the Distress procedure for the course but we all know that in a months time it will not be so fresh in your mind.

To overcome this, it is good practise to have a copy of the Distress procedure stuck to the bulkhead above your VHF (or even a mini version alongside a handheld).

The sheet below highlights the procure step-by-step and at the same as the sheets above. However, they are in MS Word format which allows you to add in the details of your boat.

Distress Message – DSC

Distress Message – non-DSC

Receiving a distress alert & message

The most important thing to remember if you hear a distress on the radio is that you should not transmit. You need to give the vessel in distress every opportunity to get there message out.

Also note that you are legally obliged to render assistance to a vessel in distress if is possible for you to do so. You should therefore not simply turn off your radio.

You should note do the details of the distress and assess whether you are in a position to offer help. You can use this time to get closer to the vessel in distress if you are able to help.

If the coastguard later asks for help you can then offer your assistance.

If the vessel does not receive a response from the coastguard you should consider relaying the message. See the Mayday Relay page for more information.

Important terms you need to know

There are some additional procedure words that can be used during a distress situation and you need to know their meanings:

Seelonce Mayday
(broadcast by Coastguard) – means stop using this channel for anything other than distress communication.

Seelonce Distress – means the same as Seelonce Mayday but can be transmitted by any station.

Prudonce – you can start using this channel again but only if you have a good reason.

Seelonce Feenee – you can use this channel as normal.

RNLI Training – Example Distress Message
This is a link to the online version of the RNLI Training console.


The content of these pages is put together in good faith and is constantly evolving. It is possible that errors exist within this content.

If you spot an error or would like to add anything to these pages please contact us via email.

Reading the content of these pages is not a substitute for completing a RYA SRC Course or similar.