What to do in case of an emergency while boating…

What to do if an emergency while boating:

First, you must stay calm, I know it’s easy to say, but only preparation can help you stay calm since you’ll know what to do.

The people on board need to be aware of the different modes of communication and, above all, how they operate. So before going out, have a discussion with all the people on board in a very friendly climate to discuss safety measures. This is probably new to you, but you’ll get used to it quickly and everyone on board will be more confident and reassured.

Remember, in Canada you must have an operator certificate to operate VHF radio.


Communications in case of emergency:

Let’s start with the VHF radio.  Everyone must understand how it works and especially the red emergency button. It is also necessary to be aware of the approach of the 4 P.

Explaining the 4 P:

P for problem:

You have to be able to describe the problem on board.

P for position:

Be able to describe your position, in other words, be able to read the GPS that always gives latitude and longitude.  Important to practice reading this information.

P for person:

A summary and/or description of the people on board and their situation must be provided at the time of the emergency.

P for PFD (Personal flottaison device):

You need to know where they are located and quickly have all passengers put them on.

Know the required statements (what to say when using the VHF).

On the VHF, in order to attract attention from all boaters in the area and the Coast Guard when the situation is life threatening, you must say three times MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, wait 10 seconds and then repeat (when your life is in danger, it’s MAYDAY).

(PAN, PAN, PAN is for an engine failure or an emergency on board where your life is NOT in danger).

When a boater or Coast Guard answers, apply the 4Ps.

Ideally, a summary of these instructions should be provided near the VHF (fixed or portable) communication station or satellite phone so that everyone can have visual help with the procedures that must followed. Ideally, you should also have a flashlight nearby.

If you are at sea, you need to know how to activate and/or use the satellite distress beacon. If you have a life raft, very important to know how to deploy it safely, including to be able to board it fairly easily after deployment, for example: how to access it in rough seas (it can be ejected further away from the boat than planned). It is therefore necessary to become familiar with deployment (see instructions).

Ideally, your VHF might have a MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) or a maritime mobile service identity that formally identifies you.

This 9-digit number formally identifies you and is transmitted digitally when the button is activated. Registration is free.

Here’s the link: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/frm-fra/TPHM-AP5KFJ

So before each trip especially at sea, it is a must to discuss with all the passengers on board these safety measures insuring all then will fell more comfortable and the boat trip all the more enjoyable.

The location on board PFDs is paramount, so you can attach AIS beacons to each PFD in order to be found very quickly by the surrounding boats and of course the Coast Guard.

Here are some links for additional information:




Don’t forget a sound device, such as a whistle or bell, it’s important.

Take the time to explain security procedures. It is not tabou to talk about it and the people on board will appreciate the information.

Fortunately, very few emergencies happen, today’s boats are very safe and thanks to electronic navigation equipment that gives us live weather, weather surprises are easy to avoid.

There must also be fonctional and updated on board fire extinguishers in strategic locations.

In short, we must never forget that cell phones have a limited range, yes, they are an integral part of the safety features on board, but they are also limited. Keep all safety equipement on board up to date.

Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard provide a lot of information based on the type of boat you have. We are never careful enough so, again, take the time to consult the articles and check regularly on new emergency systems that are being offered on the market.  These measures  can only ensure that every time you are out on the water you, your family and guests will always in perfect safety.

Some useful links:



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