It’s nice to think that PANPAN would actually work that way.

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Let’s say you lose a crewman in a channel with other traffic around. Then pan-pan would probably be wisest. It would alert others to stay clear of you and be prepared to assist if needed. Alternatively, mayday might just bring more interference towards you or the swimmer.

If you did not see a crew go over, but later found one missing, I might also start with pan-pan. This would give me a chance to thoroughly search the ship and also figure out the most likely search area.

Nothing raises awareness like a Mayday call, and man overboard situations usually go from bad to worse. When I’m working and I hear a pan-pan call, I usually only half listen or ignore it because they normally repeat themselves anyway. If I ever end up in the water I sure hope they call Mayday.

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I’ve practiced time and time again pulling up live participants from the water in MOB drills and it’s not as easy as it looks even when they help themselves. A hypothermic victim would present a serious challenge even from a very low freeboard.

I’ll bet the cargo and the ship is insured for more then all the crew added together…

I was doing that with a bunch of students. The young and fit ones climbed right back aboard, but then despite everyone yelling NO an elderly and obese lady decides she wants in on the fun and jumps off the boat. We could NOT get her aboard even with 4 strong guys to help without really hurting her badly. We ended up towing her a mile back to port so she could climb out at the dock ladder. I never heard the end of that one!

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I totally agree. I might use a PAN or SECURITY if the only issue I had was not wanting to get hit while coming around to get an uninjured person in benign conditions.
If I have any doubts about a quick and easy recovery I want all the help I can get RIGHT NOW and MAYDAY it is!

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For me the question is what likely assets are needed to assist and how fast do I need them ready.

I only came close to calling mayday once… and not for my vessel. Small boat mis-timed the surf and dropped a guy. Water was about 40 degrees and the man wasn’t wearing a pfd. The boat called mob on 16. Local lifeguard and police boat responded. USCG surf boat took their time responding.

They set out a search and told the helicopters to “get ready”.

A few problems:

  1. Closest air station was 200+ nm away.
  2. The uscg never assumed command and the local guys didn’t have the training to handle multiple incidents at once.
  3. They had sufficient assets for the search but nobody was paying attention to the boat still battling to get out of the surf. It just didn’t have the horsepower it needed to get away and was being pushed into the breakwater.
  4. only the uscg boat was certified for surf.

Luckily they found the guy before the boat hit the rocks… but they came very close to loosing those people on the boat (which included a small kid).

Had they called mayday then the uscg would have assumed command and sent both surf boats and a helicopter.

Of course, mayday was the right call here because the boat was in distress (even if they didn’t realize it) but… again it comes back to the question of speed and available assets.

I’ve seen many incidents where incident commanders don’t fully understand the danger of the situation and don’t escalate the problem to SAR command. As it’s been said above, it’s hard to call a mayday, but it’s also hard to tell a helicopter crew they needed to take off 20 minutes ago.


That would have been a “Mayday Relay.” Do you use that term in the US?

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We have it, but I have never heard it used.

What would have been, John’s scenario? The other vessel never called mayday so there wasn’t a mayday to relay.

Yes a John’s scenario, Mayday Relay to relay that someone else is in trouble and avoid any confusion that it was John’s vessel.