If you have never had need to call on the USCG or TowBoatUS while underway, then you can count your blessings! It happens to the best of Boaters everyday though so why not be prepared “just in case?” There are a few things you can do to prepare before ever leaving the dock.
Radio Check – while most vessels are not required to have a VHF radio on board – if they do however it is required to work. Either way, if you have a VHF radio on your boat call TowBoatUS for a Radio Check before leaving the dock. It’s as simple as calling out on VHF Channel 16 “TowBoatUS, TowBoatUS, this is ‘Reel Fun’ calling for a radio check.” Our dispatcher will likely have you switch your traffic to one of our working channels to complete your radio check.
Maybe you rely on a cell phone for emergency response. Make sure your battery is fully charged and check your cell reception periodically to make sure you are in range of a signal. Most cell phones are not going to help if you transit too far off-shore. A VHF radio will insure that you are heard by boaters in the area (generally within a 20 mile radius).
Have phone numbers and boat info handy. This includes phone numbers to USCG, TowBoatUS and any other Emergency contacts such as insurance carrier.
A few words about how to address your call……
EMERGENCY PROCEDURAL WORDS
MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY –To signal grave and imminent danger. This could mean your boat is sinking or there is an immediate medical emergency onboard. This phrase is not used to raise the Coast Guard! I have heard this used to let the USCG know that there was a piling floating in the channel. Worth the effort to call them but certainly NOT a MAYDAY call.
PON PON PON PON PON PON– To signal less than grave and imminent danger but still urgent danger.
SECURITY SECURITY SECURITY - This is the International Safety Signal and is a message about some aspect of navigational safety or a weather warning.
If you are calling on VHF or even a cell phone, and you are in an emergency situation the person you are speaking with will know what to ask. Do NOT try to give all the information in one transmission unless your vessel is in imminent peril (as in a MAYDAY call)! In other words – let go of the mic button! Take a breath. Make sure you are being heard. If no one responds, ask for confirmation of your transmission. It may be that you are being heard but protocol dictates that the person you are calling answer first.
In case of an emergency you will likely be asked the following questions. Try to keep your answers clear and concise. Below are a few questions you will likely be asked (in no specific order of importance).
What is your position? If you do not have a GPS then be prepared to answer questions about visual references and / or distance from inlet, markers, or other known reference points. The FREE BoatUS app for your Smartphone also allows you to view your GPS position. That comes in real handy when you have a dead boat battery!
How many people are onboard? You will then be asked if everyone is wearing a life jacket. Make sure this is done as soon as you realize your vessel is in distress. All POB’s (Persons On Board) should wear their PFD (personal floatation device) until you are safely ashore. You may also be asked names and ages of those onboard as well as if there are any medical conditions.
What is the nature of your distress? This is the time to be succinct. If your vessel is taking on water there may be more info that is needed to transmit than if you have a dead battery. However, try to be as brief as possible. The responder likely has more questions to get to.
Description of the vessel? Whoever is speaking on the radio should know the name of the boat, the length, make, model, color and any distinctive characteristics of the boat (color, bimini top, dinghy on bow, etc). Again – try to speak clearly and just answer the questions asked.
The USCG will likely have more questions for you to answer than the above. They will also ask if you are a member of a commercial assistance company. Trust that our Captains and/or Dispatch are listening. And we are likely on our way……………. :-)
Enter these numbers now - TowBoatUS Beaufort / Swansboro - 252-728-5088 USCG - Station Fort Macon - 252-247-4584 NC Marine Patrol - 252-726-7021 Whale or Dolphin Strandings - 252-241-5119 - Vicky