+306984729578 [email protected]

Emergency at Sea

Yiannis Zenzefilis, Greece

published 23rd of July 2020

Recently a close friend of ours faced an emergency whilst sailing in the Cyclades, Greece. His experience is the reason we have decided to publish this guide. In this blog post we will focus on the procedure a sailing yacht or motor yacht owner/captain should follow to request assistance.

The first thing you should do upon identifying a possible emergency is assess the cause of the problem and understand if this problem requires immediate assistance from the port police. 

You should then ask all passengers onboard to wear their life jackets and remain on deck. 

On your radio you should request for assistance on channel 16 there are 3 types of announcements you can use 

  • MAY DAY (3 times) used in cases when a life is at risk.
  • PAN PAN (3 times) when an emergency is declared but there is no life-threatening situation.
  • SECURITE (3 times) cases of 3rd priority ie you identify another yacht which is in danger or a situation presents a danger to navigation. 

For MAY DAY and PAN PAN you should transmit verbally the following information: 

  1. Yacht Name and MMSI or Registration number i.e. ALBATROS SX4256 (3 times).
  2. Location GPS coordinates or information that will help authorities identify your location.
  3. Type of danger (sinking, fire, engine failure etc.).
  4. Type of help requested. 

In the following link you can download a file that you can print and keep near your radio in case of emergency, you can fill in your yacht information and have this ready when needed.



When a MAY DAY is transmitted the situation is critical, if you can secure your personal documents and yacht documents as this will save you time with authorities, another good idea is to have these documents scanned and stored safely on the cloud. Make sure that your life raft is inspected yearly and is in a location where it is easily reached and launched from. Your EPIRB is the tool by which authorities will pinpoint your location so have this checked every two-three years and run a self-test before port departure. Finally, it is always a good idea to keep one fire extinguisher in one of the hatches on deck.

A PAN PAN request is often related to a tow , many times other nearby yachts, tow boats or fishing vessels will pick up your request as they often listen to broadcasts on channel 16 or the authorities will use a private yacht to reach you.

Upon the arrival of the private rescue yacht/boat near yours it is crucial to negotiate a price for the services offered (engineer, electrician, tow service to nearest port or safe area, etc.), you need to make sure that you have some type of evidence of this (video file or audio recording) ONLY when the price is agreed should you accept assistance. In case you fail to agree on a price you are often guaranteed to be presented with a letter from a law firm asking for an insane amount of money for services, this will lead to your boat marked as “HELD” by the port police after a formal request from the rescuer and not being allowed to leave port until the legal case is closed. The case is settled at 2/3 of the amount initially requested but you will need to seek legal assistance to bring the case forward in a court or communicate with the lawyer of the rescuer to settle. Your insurance might cover all related costs but it is a long and stressful procedure.

Towing Emergency at Sea

Upon safe arrival to a safe area the port police will ask for the boat papers. now is a good time for you to write a statement of events as these are still “fresh in your head”. The yacht papers will be kept by the Port Police until they close the case file. They will also ask you to visit the Port Police station to file a report of events, this will be written by the officer and you should make sure that your agreement to an exact fee for services offered with the rescuing boat/yacht owner or captain and a video or other evidence of this agreement is available is clearly mentioned in the report. Finally ask them to attach your statement of events in their report.

Settle the fee with the captain/owner of the yacht that rescued you in the port police station whilst an officer is present or ask for their bank account proceed with depositing the fee making sure you write in the comments the reason for the transaction.

If your yacht requires repairs, it is guaranteed that a boat repairer will approach you as soon as you reach port, they will claim that they are able to carry out all types of needed repairs in short time, act with caution and look at other options. When you decide who should take the job ask him for a proforma invoice (in English) which you will need to send to your insurance company so they are aware of the costs to repair your yacht. A surveyor appointed by the insurance company will also visit your yacht to assess the damage and his report together with the pro forma invoice are the ones that will finalize the amount you can claim for damages.

It is very common for contractors to request immediate payment upon completion of the work, you need to inform the insurance company of this before any work takes place on your yacht.

Normally the insurance company pays the claim amount to the yacht owner and he then pays the contractors, this can take time so be prepared to spend some time waiting for the clearance of payment. The fastest way around this is for you to pay the contractors without waiting for the insurance. Whichever way you decide to settle the invoice with the contractor make sure you get a valid invoice from them and a receipt for the payment you made as these will need to be sent to your insurance company.

Regarding the technical side of having your yacht towed the following article published by Yachting Monthly, June 3r 2016 and written by Chris Beeson covers most aspects of the procedure


If you require further assistance you can contact us by (clickable):

email or telephone