If you get into difficulties at sea there are a number of ways that you can call for help.

When to call for help

Photograph of a buoyancy aid

Buoyancy aid

You should only call for help if you are in a life-threatening situation. The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), the coastguard and the rescue services are there to save lives. Remember to always tell someone where you are going.

You should be wearing a life jacket or buoyancy aid at all times when on a boat, but double-check you are wearing one if your boat starts getting into difficulty.

How to call for help

  • Illustration of a man waving his arms up and down

    Wave your arms
    up and down
    from the sides

  • Illustration of a foghorn

    or prolonged blasts
    on a foghorn

  • Illustration of a torch

    Use a torch to signal
    SOS in morse code

  • Illustration of a VHF digital radio

    VHF digital radio

  • Illustration of a mobile phone

    Mobile phone

  • Illustration of an EPIRB

    (Emergency Position
    Indicating Radio Beacon

  • Illustration of a man letting off a flare

    Let off a flare

Sending a radio or phone message

When you contact the emergency services say 'MAYDAY'
and let them know:

1 Your vessel's name 2 Your position 3 How many people are on board 4 What assistance you require
A radio will put you directly through to the coastguard or another boat. The rescue teams will be able to trace your signal.

A mobile phone will put you through to a land operator, who will put you in contact with a coastguard. However, you will not be able to talk directly to a helicopter or a lifeboat. Also the rescue services may not be able to trace your phone's signal.

An EPIRB will send out a signal that tells rescue teams where you are and the type of trouble you are in. You must register your EPIRB with the coastguard so they have a record of your boat.

Types of flare

Flares are only to be used in an emergency

Illustration of various flares

Hand-held red pinpoint:

Orange smoke:

Parachute rockets:

Always read the instructions for the flares when you buy them, don't leave it until you are in an emergency!

Life rafts

If your boat is going to sink before the emergency services arrive, inflate your life raft.

Illustration of a raft being thrown into the water and inflated

Illustration of sailors getting into a life raft

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