A distress signal indicates that a person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.

The distress signal consists of the word MAYDAY.

Distress call and message

The distress call consists of:

  • the distress signal MAYDAY sent 3 times
  • the words ‘THIS IS’
  • the callsign or other identification of the station in distress, sent 3 times

The distress message consists of:

  • the distress signal MAYDAY (radiotelephony)
  • the callsign, the ship name or other identification of the station in distress
  • the position of the station in distress
  • the nature of the distress and the kind of assistance required
  • any other information which might be of assistance

Obligation to accept distress traffic

A distress call or message has absolute priority over all other transmissions and may be heard on any frequency.

When a distress call is heard, you must:

  • immediately cease all transmissions
  • continue to listen on the frequency
  • record full details of the distress message

If a distress message is received, wait for a short while to see if the message is received by a station better placed to help.

If the distress message is not acknowledged within a reasonable time, the amateur operator is obliged to respond.

Replying to distress messages outside of amateur bands

An amateur station may respond to a distress message received on a non- amateur frequency, but only if no other station licenced for that frequency has responded and the amateur station is in a position to directly assist.

Notifying the appropriate authority

After acknowledging or attempting to acknowledge receipt of the distress message, you must immediately forward details of the distress situation to:

  • for land-based distress situations – the police via the triple zero emergency phone service
  • for air or sea-based distress situations – the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, Canberra, ACT:
  • Aviation Rescue services phone 1800 815 257
  • Maritime Rescue services phone 1800 641 792

You should resume listening and keep the respective authority informed of any developments.

Any assistance practicable should be given until cessation of distress traffic is announced (by means of the phrase ‘SEELONCE FEENEE’), or until you are advised that assistance is no longer required.


In cases where the use of the distress signal is not fully justified, the ‘URGENCY’ signal may be used.

In radiotelephony, the urgency signal consists of the group of words ‘PAN PAN’, each word of the group pronounced as the French word ‘panne’.

The urgency signal is repeated three times before the call.

The urgency signal has priority over all other transmissions except distress.  All stations hearing an urgency signal must:

  • ensure that they do not cause interference to the transmission of the message that follows
  • be prepared to assist if required

Authority contact details as for distress messages.