kayak rescues: pan-pan calls on vhf 16

If we get into trouble, can’t make a radio call, and someone calls the Coast Guard for us, there’s a couple of scenarios.

One is that the Coast Guard will issue a pan-pan call on channel 16 asking nearby boaters to be on the lookout for us.

Pan-pan usually sounds on the air like pon-pon - French pronunciation.

Here’s a Coast Guard vhf pan-pan about a capsized kayaker in Delaware Bay:


Anyone can respond to a pan-pan. Just let the CG know who you are, and where, and substantiate that you’ve got a bead on the boat they’re looking for. And offer assistance if you’re willing and able.

Anyone know who this kayaker was?

Thanks, interesting.
I wonder what the minimum VHF setup would be for a kayak?

All you need is…
…a handheld marine VHF radio, preferably a submersible model. There are lots of them on the market and prices have come way down in the past few years.

I’ll have to look them over. If I could
get a second one in my wife’s hands, maybe we would stop getting “lost” from one another on the trails.

Power vessels rescue
many kayakers a year. Most of these are never reported. Something to consider when adopting an anti-power vessel attitude.

not VHF
IIRC marine VHF usage is regulated - you are not supposed to use them on the dry land

Take a look at the GMRS or GMRS/VHF combinations

The CG can triangulate VHF signals, and when they hear them coming from inland, I have heard them call that user out on the radio, and read them a boilerplate warning about breaking the federal law.

Use a FRS or GMRS radio instead.

about $80 (nm)

A guy can get a lot of information on
here just by admitting ignorance.

true that

– Last Updated: Mar-16-10 10:16 PM EST –

here on the Great Lakes many pleasure and commercial vessels leave Channel 16 open 24/7 whenever they are underway. IIRC correctly the commercial vessels are required to do so, and not the pleasure boats.

There are cases where powered vessels either pick up radioless paddlers via visual sighting (e.g. no pan pan broadcast was ever initiated) or they stand ready to search and assist and do so at the request of the USCG. As a practical matter it's a far smaller percentage of kayakers who are contacted and requested to stand by, assist and/or search.

We are all on the waters & they are the final decider. The often heated artificial divide betw. categories of boats strikes me as unproductive. The actions of a few clueless or negligent boaters in either camp should not stereotype all.

Speaking of VHF handhelds it's good to make sure how to operate them swiftly & surely. By which I mean knowing the radio features cold and knowing the correct protocol/language to use. I give myself a little refresher course at the start of each season.

For communication on land…

– Last Updated: Mar-17-10 10:21 AM EST –

...you can get inexpensive FRS or GMRS radios for under $50/pair. Just do a quick Google search on "FRS radio" of "GMRS radio" and you'll have more choices than you can handle. Here's a blurb on Best Buy's site that explains the difference:


There are marine VHF radios that also work on FRS frequencies, but you would need two of them and I haven't seen any that weren't near the high end of the VHF market.

congrats! admitting ignorance . . .
takes a healthy ego. and there are benefits.

makes me think
maybe I shouldn’t have named my boat Prawn Prawn

I Need to Leave Mine On
I screw up and put my VHF on ‘scan’. I get sick of the fisherman chatter and turn the radio off. In the future I’ll leave it on 16.