Distress Signals in Life Threatening Situations

There are some important distress signals you need to know, if you find yourself in a life threatening situation on the water. Use one of the following;


Use Channel 16 on your VHF radio to call MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. Give the name of your boat and your call sign, then give your position and details of your distress.

Emergency Locater Beacons

Switch on your beacon and the satellite will relay your distress signal and position to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). Keep it switched on until help arrives.

Regularly check the expiry date of the battery in your beacon, and replace on expiry.

Two types of locater beacon can be used on boats, EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and PLBs (Personal Locater Beacon). EPIRBs are specifically designed for marine use.

Only 406 mHz beacons are detected by satellites.


Send an SOS ( ... – – – ... ) by any signal method such as light or sound.


Call 111 and ask for the Police. Give your position, and cellphone number so that you can be called if further information is needed by rescue services. Keep your cellphone in your pocket in a sealed plastic bag or purpose-made waterproof container so it will not be put out of action in a capsize or swamping. Use it in the plastic bag.

Distress Flares

These are vital items. Regularly check the expiry date on your flares, and replace them.

There are three common types available.