If you are in imminent danger, here is the procedure to follow:
Immediate danger to life or property. Example: Boat sinking, on fire, or person badly injured or lost overboard. NOT when boat is grounded, out of fuel, engine failure, line in prop or lost.
Select Channel 16 on VHF Radio
Repeat MAYDAY 3 times
Give vessel name and call sign
Give position, as detailed as possible
If no answer, repeat the above information every few minutes. Your radio might not be receiving but probably is transmitting.
If you are NOT in immediate danger:
If the situation is not life threatening, the Coast Guard may switch you to channel 22-A to obtain assistance for you. Communications on any “A” channel requires that your radio be in “United States” or “Domestic” mode, not “International”.
Procedure if not in immediate danger:
You can call the commercial assistance firm of your choice directly or deal with the Coast Guard process. The Coast Guard will ask:
Name and description of your vessel
Nature of difficulty
Your name, address, telephone number
Number of people aboard
They may quiz you for details of safety equipment on board. Once data collection is finished they will ask you if you have a friend or commercial tower you want contacted to come to your aid. If you do not have anyone specific to be contacted, they will issue a Marine Assistance Request Broadcast (MARB) to solicit aid. Following the MARB, a commercial towing firm in your area will reply by radio to offer prompt assistance.
The Coast Guard process to issue a MARB can take from 15-45 minutes. Calling a towing firm directly on Channel 16 or by cellular phone saves this time and avoids involving the Coast Guard or other agencies in a non-distress case. If the Coast Guard responds to assist, you can expect a boarding and safety inspection.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
If my boat becomes disabled, if I run out of fuel, or run aground, how can I get help?
Contact Tow Boat Delta:
Can I find someone to tow me for free?
Yes, but be cautious! Although it is in the best tradition of the sea for mariners to render help whenever possible in an emergency situation, inept assistance can be dangerous even in the best of circumstances. It may be foolish to act as or accept help from a “Good Samaritan” when professional help is readily available.
Some insurance companies recommend that you not offer to be a Good Samaritan and that you use a professional tower. Commercial towers must be Coast Guard licensed for towing and are under a random drug testing program. They are fully insured with highly trained Captains and crews and are equipped to handle most situations that might arise.