The importance of communication
in an Emergency
By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
"BOSTON (AP) A disabled fishing vessel that
drifted overnight in waters 80 miles south of Martha's Vineyard
during the first major snowstorm to hit New England this season,
was being towed to shore Saturday."
"WARRENTON, OR - An amazing story of survival,
after a 67-year old man gets stuck on a sand bar in the middle
of the Columbia River and ends up spending the night there."
- KATU 2 News
"LONG BEACH , Wash. -- The Coast Guard airlifted
Tyler McLaughlin, 21, of Tillamook , Ore. from the fishing
vessel Grenada yesterday evening." - US Coast
Three events, seemingly un-related; A fishing vessel
south of Martha's Vineyard; A man on the Columbia River near
Warrenton, Oregon, and another man off Long Beach Washington.
Three events that happened in the first week of December 2003.
No, this is not the beginning for a new episode
of the Twilight Zone. It's real life news, events that have
happened, and unfortunately will probably happen again.
In New England the vessel Miss Judith
, out of Freeport , NY lost her engines. She was
adrift in 60 knot winds and 18 foot seas. What did the Miss
Judith do? They called the Coast Guard.
In Warrenton Oregon , Jerry Hanes was moving his
boat from Chinook, located in Washington State to Warrenton.
As is common in that area of the country, fog rolled in, but
what was uncommon was the density of the fog. Mr. Hanes struck
a sand bar and grounded. What did Mr. Hanes do? He called the
Seven miles off the coast of Long Beach , Washington
, Tyler McLaughlin was working the fishing vessel Grenada
. While handling deck lines, he suffered a compound
wrist facture. What did the Captain of the Grenada do? They
called the Coast Guard.
Our stories all center on an emergency and a call
to the Coast Guard. In each story, the actions or the Coast
Guard differed. From just monitoring the situation, to air dropping
supplies, or airlifting the individual out of their situation,
the Coast Guard was in contact with the vessels in distress.
The story here is about communications - emergency
communications. Each vessel had the proper radio (VHF or SSB)
to contact the Coast Guard. Each vessel knew how to contact
the Coast Guard, and knew what information they needed at a
minimum to provide them in order to aid themselves.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, through
its Recreational Boating Safety mission, urges all members of
the Boating community do become familiar with not only the operations
of their individual VHF/SSB radios, but what steps and information
is needed when contacting the Coast Guard in an emergency. "Time
is non-renewable", as stated in a speech recently given by VADM
Thomas Barrett, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard.
In an emergency, time may be of the essence, and
should not be wasted. Every crew member and guest should be
given a briefing on how to use your radio, and what information
is needed in case of an emergency (and where to find it).
Here is what the Coast Guard Auxiliary suggests
you have in place before next boating season:
- Knowledge of where you are at all times (GPS/Loran helps,
but a chart is imperative; and electronics can - and often
- How many are on-board: Adults/Children and do they have
- What's wrong? What is the nature of the distress?
- Description of your Vessel (Name, Make, Length, Type,
Color, Registration numbers/Boat name).
These four simple but extremely important pieces
of information may just save your life some day. This is the
initial, crucial information the Coast Guard will request when
you call for an emergency. To see the actual "Initial SAR Check
Sheet" used by the United States Coast Guard go to http://www.auxguidanceskills.info/press/uscg-sarcheck.pdf.
While we're talking emergency communication, we
wish to remind people that a MAYDAY call requires that all chatter
on the frequency be halted immediately, and that only the parties
to the MAYDAY transmit.
Should you hear a MAYDAY, and not hear a response
from the Coast Guard, it is possible that the transmission from
the vessel in danger did not reach the Coast Guard. It is highly
unlikely that you'll hear the distress call, and the Coast Guard
will not (due to the placement of many of the Coast Guard's
antenna installations), but it is possible.
If the Coast Guard does not acknowledge the MAYDAY
transmission, it is your duty to act as an intermediary for
that vessel and contact the Coast Guard for that distressed
vessel. You may be the only chance that the distress vessel
has to reach the Coast Guard.
Lastly, only use MAYDAY if there is a grave and
imminent danger to life or property. Use Pan Pan, for serious
emergencies, that don't warrant a MAYDAY. SÚcuritÚ is used to
warn other boaters of a issues that threaten the safety of navigation
(a tow underway, a log in the water, etc).
For more information on boating safety, contact
your United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla by visiting
us on the web at http://www.cgaux.org/or contacting your
local Coast Guard unit http://www.uscg.mil/.