If the worst happens, you may have to declare a mayday and call the Coast Guard. If you call for help when you are in peril, the Coast Guard is going to try at almost all costs to be there for you, whether you're on the coast, Great Lakes or even inland waters. Here are a few things you might want to know ahead of time so you can help the Coast Guard help you.

Depending on your location when disaster strikes, the Coast Guard may dispatch a helicopter to you as the fastest means to render you assistance. A helo can do something like 120 knots or more, but minutes could count. To help shorten Coast Guard response time, an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) is your best bet. EPIRBs with GPS take the “search” out of search and rescue. I wouldn’t go out of sight of land without an EPIRB.

Here are some of the things you can expect when you see that lifesaving Coast Guard helicopter approaching.


  • The CG will want to establish communications as soon as possible. If voice comms. can’t be established, the CG will most likely attempt to hoist down a handheld radio preset to the appropriate channel. Or they may even lower their rescue swimmer to assist with communications.
  • Once comms. are established, the pilot may want you to come to a certain heading and speed to aid in their hover. If there’s room to maneuver, your course might be 35-60 degrees right of the wind. It might be different if the hoist area dictates it, or for the best ride of the boat.
  • The pilot will ask you to turn lighting on or off depending upon conditions. They may be using Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) which work best in low light.
  • You should secure any loose gear on deck. The rotor wash is a mini-hurricane and stuff blowing around can hit you. It could even hit the helicopter and might choke its engines.
  • If you have booms, masts or other gear that can be lowered, the pilots will want it stowed so they don’t risk hitting it or tangling the wire hoist.
  • Often the rescue swimmer will be lowered down to assess the situation, do first aid if necessary and prep the person for hoist if evacuation is required.
  • An important safety tip is to let the basket, litter or wire touch the deck or water before you touch it. If you don’t, you risk getting an electrical shock from the helicopter's static electricity.
  • The Coast Guard will always use their gear because it is specially designed for the utmost safety.
  • Don’t ever hook the wire or anything from the helicopter to the boat.
  • One person wearing a PFD will be lifted at a time. 
  • The pilot will also review procedures on how to abort the hoist if things go bad.
  • Follow all the instructions the pilots give you. They are trained and experienced.


The Coast Guard provides the very best search and rescue in the world. You can help in your own rescue if you know what to do when the Coast Guard comes to save you with a helicopter or cutter. This should be a training topic and even a drill. 

Sail Safe.

A collection of stories from guest authors.