Correct behaviour in emergencies

Distress or urgency

In an emergency, time is of the essence. So immediately call for assistance, using any means available. The law defines two types of emergency. Distress means that a vessel’s crew is faced with a grave and imminent danger to life and limb and requires assistance. If you can still help yourself, you are not in distress. Urgency means that a vessel or crew requires assistance such as medical attention. There is no need for other vessels to immediately come to their aid as is essential in a distress situation. While assistance in distress is provided free of charge, any assistance in an urgency situation will be at your charge.

Emergency call over VHF radio/telephone

In Germany, Bremen Rescue Radio at the DGzRS emergency service (German Maritime Search and Rescue Association) monitors VHF channel 16 (radio) and channel 70 (Digital Selective Calling, DSC) around the clock. You can transmit a distress message on these two radio channels. Distress calls are handled by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) from where they are forwarded to the competent DGzRS stations. Distress call numbers: 12 41 24 in the German mobile network (no area code), landline: 0421 53 68 70. Bear in mind that mobile phone reception is very poor at sea (exception: satellite phone). Hence you may soon be isolated from the outside world. For your own safety, always carry a VHF radio unit on board. The unit allows you to make a distress call from anywhere. Plus, it comes in very handy for ship-to-ship communication. Another advantage: by pressing the push-to-talk (PTT) button you enable the rescue crews to pinpoint your position.

How to make a distress call

To save time and avoid any possible misunderstanding, exactly follow this sequence when making a distress call:

Switch your unit to maximum transmission power
· Press the PTT button, speak slowly and clearly
· Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is … (say vessel name and call sign)
· Mayday. This is … (repeat vessel name and call sign)
· Give your position by longitude and latitude
· State the nature of your distress
· Request immediate assistance
· To share your position, depress the PTT button for 10 to 15 seconds, wait 3 seconds, then keep the button depressed for another 10 to 15 seconds
· Over

DSC – Digital Selective Calling

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) on VHF channel 70 is part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). DSC distress alerts are sent to all DSC receivers within range (vessels, coastal radio stations). To participate in the GMDSS, you need a DSC-enabled VHF unit and a GMDSS radiocommunication licence.

Distress signals

In addition to the telephone, VHF radio and DSC, there are other distress signals that may save lives. They include emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRB), red parachute flares, red star shells, orange smoke signals, explosive signals fired at intervals of about a minute, SOS lamps or sound signals, the N+C International Code signal of distress (flag signal) and a person slowly raising and lowering their outstretched arms.


For further sea rescue information, contact the German Maritime Search and Rescue Association (DGzRS), Werderstrasse 2, 28199 Bremen/Germany, phone: +49 421 53 70 70,,