Communication and rescue

Procedures to follow, and communication channels and words to use, in the case of an emergency on the water.

Search and rescue

Before a search can be initiated, someone must know that you are either in trouble or overdue. So tell someone where you are going, how many people are on board and when you expect to return.

It is strongly recommended that you log on and log off with Marine Rescue NSW.

There are a number of ways that a search and rescue agency can be alerted, including radio distress calls, distress flares, overdue reports and activation of an EPIRB.

AusSAR, a division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), is Australia’s national search and rescue authority and runs the Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC Australia) in Canberra.

RCC Australia can be contacted 24 hours a day on 1800 641 792.

Under federal regulations, operators of VHF and MF/HF radios are required to hold an operating certificate. The normal certificate for VHF recreational operators is the Marine Radio Operators VHF Certificate (MROVCP). Marine Rescue NSW offers this course or check the Australian Boating College's online marine radio courses for more details.

Operators of 27 MHz equipment are not required to hold a certificate but are strongly encouraged to obtain one for their own and other users’ safety.

See Other essential equipment - marine radios for more information.

Emergency words

All calls should be repeated three times.


A mayday call denotes an emergency involving imminent danger to a vessel and the people on board. If you hear a mayday call you should not transmit, but continue to monitor the radio.

If a shore station such as the local Marine Rescue NSW unit fails to respond to the call, you should attempt to relay the message and render any assistance.

An example of a mayday message could be: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday this is Phantom, this is Phantom, this is Phantom, a five metre red half-cabin, I am three miles off Red Head, we have been swamped by a wave and we are sinking. There are four people overboard. Over.”

Pan Pan

Pan Pan is an urgency message that indicates a vessel is in trouble but not in immediate danger, for example: “Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan, this is Phantom, this is Phantom, this is Phantom, a five metre red half-cabin, I am three miles off Red Head, we have been disabled by a wave and require a tow. There are four people onboard. Over.”


Securite messages (pronounced “Say-cure-e-tay”) generally prefix navigational safety messages such as weather reports or navigation hazard updates, for example: “Securite, Securite, Securite, all ships, all ships, all ships, this is Coast Radio Sydney, Coast Radio Sydney for a renewal of a strong wind warning please switch to channel VHF 67. Out.”

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