What’s stronger than a MAYDAY call?

Excellent discussion in the PANPAN vs MAYDAY thread but nobody talks about the fact that MAYDAYS also have different levels of response based on the information provided.

At extremes the USCG is going to deploy a lot more assets for a cruiseship engulfed in flame than a small boat with a mob. It’s your job as captain to give the information needed for the SAR coordinator to make that decision.

But the SAR coordinator is not on scene. You are. And you have to think about what assets are going to help you.

What many don’t realize is that you can ask for certain assets. You can request a helicopter or even a cutter.

Spending some time with SAR coordinators and learning how they think could make the difference between life and death.


What would you use in this scenario?

Two man ship assist tugboat and captain has heart attack in middle of ship job or barge move.

What is appropriate call?

1: Let ship’s bridge team know they’re without a tug
2: Coordinate terrestrial emergency services to meet you at the nearest dock. (Dial 911?)
3: Call for a standby tug to pick up the slack.
(Of course, there are endless variations depending on where you are in the job. )

A PANPAN call is definitely in order to keep everyone out of your way, but I’m not sure a seaborne emergency response would be much help at all.

Your brain.

What does your checklist tell you to do? Oh wait, that’s right, there is no checklist covering every contigency because no 2 emergencies are the same.

Totally disagree.
Obviously you want the customer to know they are missing a tug, but at least in the USA a MAYDAY is 100% the right thing to do.*

Calling 911 is liable to cause mass confusion at best. We had an incident here where someone has CO poisoning and the skipper called 911. The 911 operator had no clue at all where XYZ Creek was and after some back and forth sent an ambulance to the closest point on land they could see on their map which was on the wrong side of the river. Might as well have been 100 miles away.
I also heard a MAYDAY where the skipper was having a heart attack and while the USCG was getting all the info a doctor on another boat about 300 yards away broke in and said he was on his way.

*YMMV on inland waters and lakes without a USCG presence.

Well, I wouldn’t try to liaise with terrestrial services without giving them an actual street address. The only times it’s come up, I’ve been pretty far out (>12 hrs), with plenty of time to organize a rendezvous, discuss what needs to be done, etc. However, the given example is extremely time sensitive, and my first instinct as far as resolving the medical issue (which may not be the biggest problem) would be to cut out as many intermediaries as possible.

Thanks for that I will definitely try and use my brain next time. Do me a favor next time if you dont have a constructive answer to a question stay out of it.


Good idea. Your question can’t be answered because it has no context. A heart attack in the middle of a ship job or barge move. Which is it? A ship has people who may be able to help, a trained medic who can tend to the captain perhaps? A barge, not likely. Miles from land or next to a pier where an ambulance can be summoned? Are you already in radio contact with anyone? At which stage of the evolution? Is the captain at the controls or are you? Is he having chest pains and conscious or passed out on the deck? Is there traffic nearby? Is loss of control of the tug or tow an issue? Do you get my drift? Do you understand context?
Definition of context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

You do me a favor next time. If you can’t formulate an intelligent question, don’t bother.

In your case, MAYDAY, definitely.

Where I live a medical emergency call could have a fire boat with paramedics aboard headed towards me at 30 knots or maybe a helicopter vs. trying to arrange meeting an ambulance someplace while I head over there at 6 knots.

You must be a blast at the company Christmas party.

Defcon 4

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Most likely he’s like the rest of us and doesn’t get invited to the company Christmas party.


Man, I remember the one year I attended the company Christmas Party. . . .only because I was promised that my paycheck would be delivered to me there (it wasn’t, but that is another story). Door prizes were awarded, and I got one that no one else was eligible. . . a round trip for one to sunny San Juan, and it leaves in 5 days. . . .

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