What is a Distress Situation?
According to the Office of Boating Safety of the U.S. Coast Guard, the distress signal should only be used in Distress and Distress Phase situations.
In a Distress situation, a calamity has already occurred, and life, limb, or property are in peril.
Life — a passenger’s life is in danger and requires immediate medical attention
Limb — a passenger is at risk of permanent injury and requires immediate medical attention
Property — a vessel is in danger of severe damage or sinking, e.g., by fire or taking on water.
In a Distress Phase situation, a calamity has not yet occurred, but there is reasonable certainty that grave and imminent danger to life, limb, or property will occur unless the vessel receives immediate assistance.
The guidelines above are traceable to the Coast Guard addendum to the U.S. National Search and Rescue Plan and to the International Maritime Organization’s Search and Rescue Plan. In composing this manual, members of the safety community suggested the following comments and considerations. No radio, horn signal, or other distress communications should be used for inconvenient situations such as running out of bait or other supplies. Running aground, in the absence of other factors, does not necessarily constitute a Distress or Distress Phase situation. If a vessel has run aground, is not in danger of sinking, and no passengers are injured, then the vessel is not in distress. If the act of running aground has imperiled passengers or the vessel as described under Distress Situation, then a Distress Situation exists. Likewise, running out of fuel is not necessarily a Distress or Distress Phase Situation. If a vessel runs out of fuel, is within sight of land, has an operating radio, and no one is injured, then neither a Distress nor a Distress Phase Situation exists (a non-distress radio call to a towing service or marina may be appropriate). If, however, the vessel is out of sight of land and nightfall is approaching, then a Distress Phase Situation may exist.
Special note — A review of boating incident reports reveals a common accident pattern in which only two passengers are aboard. One passenger encounters a medical emergency, and the other passenger must decide whether to assist the victim first or call for help first. A victim who has hit his head while falling overboard is an example of such a situation. FogMate can act as a virtual crew member in these situations to signal a need for assistance.
Boaters should activate FogMate’s distress signaling mode in situations in which they would also make a distress call on VHF radio. Likewise, if in a particular situation a boater would not make a radio distress call, then the boater should probably not activate FogMate’s distress signaling mode. The distress signaling capability of your FogMate should NOT be overused.