Assisting Other Boaters

If another boater is in distress, you are required to provide them with assistance, so long as helping them does not place you, your passengers or your boat in a dangerous position. This is the case if you are in an accident with another boat, if you see or hear a distress signal, or if you simply suspect that there’s trouble on the water. If you determine that it’s too dangerous to approach the boat in distress, you must contact the appropriate authorities who will be able to provide the victims with assistance.

Rendering assistance to other boaters in distress



Reporting a Boat Accident

Most boat accident types will require you to file an accident report with the state boating authority and with the local authorities. These accident types may include: Collisions, capsizing and person overboard emergencies, fire emergencies, etc.

If you’ve been in a boating accident, you are required to:

  • Stop and identify yourself to the other boater.
  • Assist any boater in distress, so long as you are not placing yourself or your passengers in a dangerous situation.
  • Obtain the following important information from the other boater: The date, time, accident location, name of each person who died or went missing, number and name of the boat, name and address of the owner and operator. 

Boater calling for help for a boat fire

Remember, you are required to file an official report with state authorities if any of the following occur during your boating trip:

  • A passenger is lost or is killed.
  • There is a personal injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid.
  • The boat is completely destroyed and/or lost.
  • There is property damage in excess of the state threshold.

You may face a fine and/or imprisonment if you fail to report a boat accident, if you fail to provide assistance to those in distress or if you fail to identify yourself to the authorities after being involved in an accident.

Remember, most types of boat accidents WILL require you to file an official accident report. Be prepared to do this if you’re ever involved in an accident on the water.


Sending for Help

You should have a Very High Frequency (VHF) FM marine radio on board your boat, especially if you plan on going on longer boating trips or if you may be boating far from shore. VHF FM marine radios are much more reliable than cell phones because they provide communication between your boat and the Coast Guard as well as the other boaters around you.

Boater using VHF FM Radio to call for assistance

Channel 16 is monitored day and night by the Coast Guard. They will send the appropriate assistance depending on whether the situation is one of distress (life-threatening) or non-distress (non-life threatening).

Using a VHF-FM Marine Radio:

  • Use Channel 16 as an emergency channel ONLY.
  • The code for distress is to say ‘MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY’.
  • Be prepared to provide the Coast Guard with the following information:
    • Your location
    • The exact nature of the problem
    • The number of people on board your boat
    • The boat name, color, type, size and registration
    • The safety equipment you have on board your boat

You can download our Quick Reference Guide, which includes this information, at