First reaction to a distress call should be, “this is real can I help?” Then listen to the whole message to see if you might have an ability to render assistance. If you are not in a position to help you should still remain on frequency and listen. If there is no response by a station who can offer assistance after a few seconds respond by acknowledging you heard the call.
The way to acknowledge a Mayday is simply his call sign, “this is”, your call sign “roger your mayday out.” If you are in a position to assist then your response would be, after call signs, “roger your mayday” then quickly tell how you can assist. If you are going to their assistance give your position and estimated time of arrival (ETA).
The reasons for acknowledging the distress call when no one else who can render assistance responds are: 1. the distress station will know they have been heard and that the signal is getting out. 2. The skip maybe jumping over the top of someone who could help and by responding your signal may be received by that station and you could act as a relay. 3. You can call the authorities who can help or if you do not have a telephone available you can call for someone else on the air who can assist. Remember there may be people who can hear you and can not hear the distress station.
If it is an SOS the response is basically the same. The receipt response is “r SOS AR.”
Stay on frequency and listen as long as you can or until the distress is over. By over I mean help is on scene and danger is over.
When taking information or when giving information there is an order of importance. Who is in distress is contained in the call sign. The exact location of the distress is the most important. No one can help if they to not know the location of the person in distress. Next in order of importance is the nature of the distress (if it is a boat taking on water the nature of the distress would include type and size of the vessel).
With just that much information help can be dispatched but the next order of business is how many people are involved in the distress and are there any injuries. Then finally how much longer can the aircraft remain in flight, the ship or boat remain afloat, or what ever condition that caused the distress will remain sufficiently stable to support those in the distress.
This information is all important. If you are receiving a distress signal and you are going to relay this information to the authorities try to get all of this information before calling. If you are sending a distress call include all the above information in your distress call because your signal may be heard by someone who is not able to respond back but who can help.
When you receive a distress call it should be passed on through proper channels. If the distress is a ship at sea, no matter what flag it is under or where it is, if you are in the United States of America that channel will be the US Coast Guard. If it is an inland boat the USCG can still assist. If it is an aircraft of any kind then it will be the FAA who needs to know. If it is an automobile or other land based distress then your local state police will be able to pass the information to the proper authorities even if the distress is not in your state.
But in the USA most of the country has 911 for emergency. Using this will not require you to look up any number. When you call 911 make sure you identify that you are a ham radio operator passing on the information by saying, “I am an amateur radio operator and I just received a distress call.” Then let them ask the questions. If you do this things will go a lot smoother.
Do not let the 911 operator argue with you because it was received on ham radio. Every distress signal is considered real unless proven otherwise.
If you hear a distress call which does not include a call sign it is legal for you to respond. Non hams can use amateur frequencies to make a genuine distress call. Actually when it is a true distress any frequency available is legal to use.
Keep a log of all the activity which will include time, date, frequency, mode, list of all participants, and what was said. Sign and date the log and keep it. This can be used as an official record if needed and if it is not needed you will probably want to have it just so you can go back to remember it. You should keep that log for at least 5 years.
The biggest thing is don’t panic. Stay calm, (OH SURE), well try anyway and do the best you can.