top of page

Boating 101 - Where Does 'Mayday' Come From?

By: Steven Bull, Host – Water Ways TV


Boaters on larger bodies of water are very familiar with VHF radios and all that comes with it, including the phonetic alphabet. In fact, I’ve seen a handful of boats that play off that for their name. I’m looking at you Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!


There are also standardized phrases used including sécurité (or “security call” if anglicized), pan-pan, and mayday.


But have you ever wondered about the reason we use those latter two?


If you’re a Buffalo Sabres fan when you hear “mayday” you probably think of Rick Jeanneret's play-by-play from the 1993 Stanley Cup semifinals of Brad May’s overtime series clincher. Iconic, sure, but irrelevant to boating.


Both mayday and pan-pan come from the French language and, more specifically, the need to communicate with French aircraft in English airspace.


Back in the 1920s, air travel was really taking off – pun intended – with many flights crossing the English Channel from France to England. Radio traffic controllers needed something short, clear, and understandable to both languages.


The solution of “mayday” is commonly credited to Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. The story goes that Mockford took the French phrase “venez m’aidez” (French for “come help me”), dropped the first word, kept the “m’aidez” and its pronunciation but spelled it “mayday” to simplify it for English.


The still serious, but non-life-threatening, pan-pan call also shares a similar history, as the French word “panne” means breakdown.


And, as my French teacher from Grade 10 will attest, that essentially taps out my knowledge of the language!

1,652 views3 comments

3 Comments


Theo Hernandez
Theo Hernandez
May 21, 2023

good topic


Like

AlexCuadrado
AlexCuadrado
May 21, 2023

Good topic


Like

AlexCuadrado
AlexCuadrado
May 21, 2023

A very interesting excursion into history, which once again proves that knowledge of the language is a key thing if you want to understand what is happening around you. When I was studying at university, I used to use an interpreter in my foreign language classes, and if I was assigned to translate https://www.translate.com/services/document-translation legal documents at home, I ordered a translation of these documents into the language I needed, because at that time I did not understand why I needed a foreign language at all, because I could speak my own. Now that time has passed, I realise how wrong I was. And even this story shows that knowledge of a language can save lives and establish new standards…

Like
bottom of page