Mayday Mayday!


I was watching “Lost”, the famous TV series, when I first heard this word “Mayday”! Probably I had heard of it before; however, I did not pay attention at all. 

Last week, I was watching a TV movie and I heard it again. 🙂 I decided to search its etymology and I was quite surprised!

For those who did not know, Mayday is used by pilots when there is a danger. We can it is a kind of SOS. Its history dates back to 1923. As Wikipedia puts it right:

The Mayday callsign originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897–1962). A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word “Mayday” from the French m’aider. “Venez m’aider” means “come help me.”

Other urgent calls

A Mayday relay call is made by one vessel on behalf of a different vessel which is in distress. If a vessel makes a Mayday call and it is notacknowledged by the coastguard after a single repetition and a two-minute wait, then a vessel receiving the Mayday call should attempt to contact the coastguard on behalf of the Mayday vessel by broadcasting a Mayday relay.

A Mayday relay call should use the callsign of the transmitting vessel but give the name and position of the Mayday vessel.

Mayday relay calls can be used to summon help for a vessel which is either too far offshore to contact the coastguard directly or without radio capabilities (though most vessels above a certain size or crew complement are legally required to carry two-way radio equipment, such equipment can potentially be damaged or destroyed).

Pan-pan (from the French: panne – a breakdown) indicates an urgent situation of a lower order than a “grave and imminent threat requiring immediate assistance”, such as a mechanical breakdown or a medical problem. The suffix medico used to be added by vessels in UK waters to indicate a medical problem (Pan-Pan medico, repeated three times), or by aircraft declaring a non-life-threatening medical emergency of a passenger in flight, or those operating as protected medical transport in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.[6] “Pan-pan medico” is no longer in official use.

Sometimes the phrase “declaring emergency” is used in aviation. This is the same as calling “Mayday”. For example Swissair Flight 111 radioed “Swissair one eleven heavy is declaring emergency” on discovering their situation


One response to this post.

  1. Interesting, it must annoy the odd English-native purist to think that “Mayday” comes from la belle langue…

    I don’t know the exact period, but in a long-distance past, the distress-call at sea was also “CQD”: an acronym for Come Quick Danger. I haven’t looked into it, it is something I seem to remember from my primary school lessons about sinking civilian ships during World War 1 or 2 (but I could be totally wrong).


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