Marine radio distress relay protocol


Following consultation with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Association of Marine Electronic and Radio Colleges (AMERC), the RYA has issued revised guidance regarding the procedure for sending a ‘Distress Relay’.

In a relay situation, there is no longer a requirement to send a DSC ‘Urgency Announcement’.  The ‘Mayday Relay’ voice call remains unchanged and should still be transmitted as normal.


If a distress is received by DSC or voice, the skipper of a vessel should act as follows: 

  1. Wait five minutes for the distress to be acknowledged by the Coastguard or another vessel.
  2. If no acknowledgement or distress working is heard, send a ‘Received Mayday’ voice call to the station in distress, then:
  3. Relay the distress message to the nearest Coastguard, which may be by any means, but should primarily be sent using a ‘Mayday Relay’ voice call addressed to the specific Coastguard station followed by repetition of the original ‘Mayday message’.
  4. The Coastguard should respond and take over distress working and co-ordinate the assistance.
  5. If unable to contact a Coastguard station, send a ‘Mayday Relay’ call, addressed to ‘All Stations’, followed by the repetition of the original ‘Mayday message’. You should then prepare to co-ordinate the assistance to the vessel in distress between yourself and any other vessels in the vicinity.  

The same approach, starting at step 3, should be taken if you believe another vessel, aircraft, person or vehicle is in distress and unable to transmit its own distress signal.

Be prepared

If you have a VHF radio on board your boat, or carry a handheld VHF whilst out on the water, you need to hold an operator’s licence to operate it other than for distress. 

The RYA Marine Radio Short Range Certificate (SRC) course is a one-day course aimed at anyone who wants to operate a marine VHF radio, with or without Digital Selective Calling (DSC). 

Vital for days out boating, it covers radio functionality, how to relay information clearly and swiftly in an emergency situation, as well as hands-on practice of operating and talking over the radio.  Supporting information, including the simplified distress relay protocol, can also be found in the RYA VHF Handbook (G31). 

Find out more about RYA training courses at, or visit to browse the full selection of RYA publications.

Visit the RYA online safety hub for information and advice about safe boating.