Tuesday, May 1, 2012


“Isn't it appropriate that the month of the tax begins with April Fool's Day and ends with cries of "May Day"?” - anon
Today, May 1, approximately halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, is a day of celebrations in many countries under the name “May Day”. This got me thinking about the distress call “Mayday!” and if there is any connection. The answer is – no.

Made official in 1948, “Mayday” it is an anglicizing of the French m'aidez, 'help me' or venez m'aider meaning come help me. The call is given three times in a row ("Mayday Mayday Mayday") to prevent mistakes or misunderstanding. Mayday is used ONLY to signal a life-threatening emergency like a boat on fire or sinking or a plane about to crash! For less urgent needs, like being stranded at sea without gas, use the call “Coastguard, Coastguard, Coastguard”.

A Mayday call indicates that a vessel, aircraft, vehicle, or person is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance. Mayday calls can be made on any frequency, and once made, no other radio traffic on that frequency is permitted except to assist in the emergency. Making a false Mayday call is a criminal act in many countries. In the U.S. it is a federal crime carrying sanctions of up to six years imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000.

When making a valid Mayday call, indicate the name of your boat/aircraft, your location, the nature of the emergency and the number of people involved. Wikipedia recommends this as a typical message:
“MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is [boatname], [boatname], [boatname]. Position 54 25 North 016 33 West. My boat is on fire and sinking. I require immediate assistance. 4 people on board. We are evacuating to a lifeboat. OVER."
Bottom Line

Anyone hearing a Mayday call should respond to save lives. If you are distant from the scene or unable to respond, you can still help by relaying the Mayday call if there has been no official reply within two minutes of the distress call. It may be that the Coastguard is out of range and didn’t hear the call from the sinking boat but will hear you. A Mayday relay call should use the callsign of the transmitting vessel but give the name and position of the Mayday vessel. “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is [boatname], [boatname], [boatname] relaying a Mayday from [otherboat], position 54 25 North 016 33 West. [otherboat] boat is on fire and sinking and requires immediate assistance. 4 people on board. [otherboat] is evacuating to a lifeboat. OVER."



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