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Radio Medical Advice On Ship- 5 Important Points

We all are well aware of the fact that a ship is one of the very few working places where you can encounter some situations, which you have not encountered or which you may not come across in your entire lifetime except when you are on a ship.

We seafarers, sail the oceans and are mostly away from ports and nearest land, sometimes months away from a sight of literally anything except our beloved ocean and shore authorities. Having said that we can conclude the importance of each and every person on board.  And the competence required for each member of the crew to perform their duties and in the process of which we may observe that even a slightest error in any respective task or a lack in focus can lead to a pretty ugly sight of accidents, shocks, strokes, injuries, and sometimes death. The worst in all is the help which is probably 1000 nautical miles or more away from you, so the question is what can we do to save our crew, what help can we be to save a life ,what should our actions be to take control of the situation.

5 Points To Radio Medical Advice

Following are the few points which may come in handy while taking radio medical advice:


Your mind will always suggest you this, because you have never saw anything like this situation before but here you are watching your friend lying on the floor and blood everywhere, and all you did was run and shout for help in the process of which you hurt yourself too and now there are two crew in need of assistance. Safety First as we have always heard number of times is to be followed, if you panic and your brain is not working except of being in fear you will not really be of use, channelize your thoughts calm yourself and come with solutions and procedures you have learnt, now is the time, and panic will really not be of any help.


Since we are talking about radio medical advice or help specifically, there have been many incidents that a seafarer was not aware of the procedures, of the ITU formats and of the proper communication content to be said while you are connected to a medical facility ashore due to which the help was delayed and a crew member lost their life. In such a situation it is very highly recommended that after taking charge you are familiar of the equipment and once in a while you go through the proper format and content to be included in such a message, or radiotelephony (r/t) in urgency priority. Action to be taken in such a critical situation shall be in seconds which requires your regular brushing up of the procedures.


Presently, we have SAT-C (only TELEX) SAT-B and FLEET-77(only telephony) on board which provides telephony and telex services all around the world at a cost, and is really sought after equipment for quick and easy communications but again, the officer in charge should know what to do with it in the first place. You simply Login to this equipment and select a code(in telephony), 32 {medical advice}, 38 {medical assistance),for telex in sat-B you receive MED+, now these may sound similar but are actually very different.

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CODE 32 is to be used when you need only the advice and you are pretty sure the situation can be controlled and the concerned crew will be fine by giving the meds available on board but after you confirm it with a doctor. For Ex: Stomach Ache, head ache, body pain, strain, sprain.

CODE 38 is to be used if the condition of an ill or injured person on board the vessel requires urgent evacuation ashore, or the services of a doctor on board the vessel. This code will ensure the call is routed to the appropriate agency/authority ashore to deal with the situation.

While using INMARSAT we shall keep in mind the limitation of these equipment such as the operational range of the INMARSAT.

This provides facility up to 76 degrees NORTH to 76 degrees SOUTH and takes guarantee of up to 70 deg N – 70 deg S, meaning that in polar regions this will be of no use and you have to use VHF, MF/HF frequencies to obtain such medical advice, navigation

Moreover, while using FLEET -77 the officer in charge should always check the position of the ship to determine which zone they fall into because in the overlapping zone you will be required to Log out first then again Log in into different zone which normally is automatic except if you are in an overlapping zone in which it will work for some time till the zone ends and then stops.

In all the circumstances the message containing the information is to be prepared in advance.


This is the only source of help in the polar regions and in regions above 76 degrees north and 76 degrees south.

As we are all aware of the range of vhf, mf/hf we will select appropriate frequency and transmit an URGENCY signal, now as per rules at least 5 minutes the channel on which the urgency signal has been received is to be monitored and if there’s no acknowledgement the same is to be relayed to shore authorities. While navigating in areas near the land this type of communications maybe the most effective method to take control of the situation.

Important aspect to bear in mind is the traffic on the radio channel, for ex if you are in TSS, where there are number of communications taking place, it is recommended to change the channel, moreover if you are out at sea and there is along medical advice, it is always recommended to change to other working frequency.

One can also try to contact ships in the vicinity on appropriate channel, because there are ships which do have doctors on board, or warships which are required to carry doctors on board. In such a case establishing a good co-ordination and the officer can get the job done even when there is no reply from any shore authorities.

Again Keep the format and message ready in advance.


This is the most important aspect of the entire procedure as this will let the concerned doctor know what is the situation and what the crew on board has done so far to control the situation and therefore proceed with the standard medical procedures.

While preparing the content (in case of TELEX) follow these few points:

1.Mention the last port of call next port of call nearest land, name of vessel, flag, id, mmsi, present position, ETA, number of the approved Medical chest on board.

2.Always mention the Reference number in each TELEX message, which will be easy to refer again in case of a lengthy conversation. Ex REF 1- present date/year, avoid complex character it should be understood to other officers as well in case of a case study or records.

3.mention the name of the crew, rank, age, nationality, gender, body temperature, blood pressure, symptoms, FIRST AID given, allergies (if any), any other info about the patient, type of injury, and kind of assistance required {advise or evacuation}

In case of radiotelephony

ITU format is to be followed with the word* PAN PAN *spoken 3 times

Keep the message in simple language.

Change to a working frequency as mentioned earlier in case of a lengthy advice, in case of evacuation there is no need of a lengthy conversation.

IMPORTANT thing to remember here is in all circumstances keep the message short and really simple so as to not make the situation more complex and to easily make the person ashore understand your concern which will save time, ultimately benefitting the person in need.

All the messages sent by the ship is only on the authority of the person responsible for the ship in general the MASTER of the ship, thus it is advisable for the master to cross check each message. Wishing my fellow seafarers, a very good sail and hoping you don’t require any of the above mentioned points during your entire endeavours at sea, and if god forbids and you do, may you perform beyond the expectations, Good Luck, Bon Voyage.

Pratap Singh
Navigator by profession. Loves to read and watch non fiction movies. Fond of Jazz and slow rock music. I Hail from the colorful country India.

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