Authorities warn - emergency calls are no joke

8 March 2011

sea rescue radio photos

A recent mayday call that is believed to have been a hoax has prompted a reminder to all vessel owners from Authorities regarding proper procedures and protocols when making an emergency call.

On 12 February 2011, a full scale search was conducted for a boat alleged to be sinking in Spencer Gulf following receipt of a radio call. Four aircraft and four rescue boats spent seven hours searching for a six-metre boat reportedly sinking eight kilometres off Port Broughton, but found nothing.

Having exhausted all avenues of enquiry it is suspected that the call was a hoax, and SA Police are now reviewing the recorded message to determine its authenticity.

Dozens of rescuers and volunteers assisted from as far away as Canberra and there is significant concern that volunteers may have risked their own lives and wasted taxpayers’ dollars for a hoax mayday call.

Darryl Wright, Manager, Volunteer Marine Rescue, SA State Emergency Service, offers these tips regarding emergency calls.

  •     ‘Mayday’ calls must only be used when a vessel or person is in grave or imminent danger.
  •     A ‘Mayday’ call broadcast in South Australia will most likely be received by one of a network of limited coastal stations manned by members of Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) Associations. These are strategically located throughout the State to monitor marine emergency distress calls and local VHF repeater channels.
  •     If a call is received, the respective radio base will establish communications, obtain relevant details and advise SA Police. Rescue vessels may also be mobilised.
  •     If a ‘Mayday' call is received by another vessel at sea and there is no response from a coastal station, the vessel should acknowledge the call, gain as much information as possible, particularly an accurate position and the nature of the emergency, then pass this on directly to SA Police on 000, or if not in a phone service area, to a coastal radio base.

Information regarding the location of coastal radio bases, areas covered by radio repeaters and protocols can be obtained either via the DTEI publication 2011 Tide Tables for South Australian Ports or the Volunteer Marine Rescue website, accessible via

“The transmission of false emergency calls comes at a significant personal and financial cost to our volunteers. It is not only a complete waste of their time, most importantly it may place them and their vessels in dangerous situations for no reason. These funds could certainly be better used to ensure that the service is well maintained,” said Darryl.

“If a false call is received it will be reported to SA Police and the instigator of the call may be liable for substantial fines or even imprisonment,” he said.