Atlantic Boat and Marine News and Information
"My position is N 32 73.203 W 079 48.000"
CHARLESTON, SC (Sun 11/22/09) --

This was the response to the Coast Guard Sector Charleston Watch Stander's request for a position from a vessel in distress early this morning. Problem is the coordinates, which the captain repeated several times, didn't really make sense. The Watch Stander's request for the vessel's position three separate times clearly indicated he did not understand the captain's numbers.

First, 32 degrees 73.203 minutes is the same as 33 degrees 13.203 minutes. Coupled with W 079 48.000, this would have placed the vessel inland more than 20 nautical miles. Second, even had the captain meant N 32.73203 degrees W 79.48000 degrees, this would have indicated he was more than 15 nautical miles northeast of his real position. He was actually grounded and breaking up somewhere along the three mile-long jetties that line Charleston's harbor entrance.

Luckily, the Coast Guard found the vessel and airlifted the captain to safety despite the incorrect coordinates. There is no word yet on the fate of his 34 foot catamaran.

As in this case, picture yourself suddenly grounded on rocks and getting slammed by heavy seas. The boat is on her side and waves are breaking over the gunwale. Or you may be knocked down, sinking, or even on fire. Or you, the captain, may have collapsed and it is up to your crew to call for medical help. These are times to know exactly what to say and how to say it.

The procedure for making a distress call should be practiced by you and your crew like any other safety drill. We recommend a label in clear view of the VHF radio with the following: CALL/ID/POS/EMGY/SOULS/COND/DESCR/ID. These are abbreviations for:

  • CALL - Make the Call. A Mayday if the situation warrants.
  • ID - Identify your vessel, i.e., her name.
  • POS - Give your position clearly. Say the words degrees, minutes, and seconds as they apply so there is no misunderstanding. For example, N 32 39.358 should be read "North 32 degrees, 39 decimal 358 minutes". N 32.66097 should be read "North 32 decimal 66097 degrees".
  • EMGY - State the nature of your emergency.
  • SOULS - State how many souls are on board.
  • COND - Give the condition of your vessel.
  • DESCR - Describe your vessel, such as "44 foot sailing vessel with white hull"
  • ID - Repeat your identity.
  • Wait for a response and instructions.

While in port, have each crew member practice the call procedures without actually keying the mike. Making sure you and your crew can communicate clearly and concisely in the midst of disaster could mean the difference between life or death, including yours.

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