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Please note, as our exhibitions change regularly, the boats, objects and pictures featured in this section may not now be on display in the museum. Please contact us on 01326 313388 for further information.

Why Mayday?

A whole range of maritime queries are received by the NMMC at the Bartlett Library, which our researchers are only too happy to try and answer. Some are received by phone, some by letter, a number arise from personal visitors, but mostly by e-mail. In this new on-line feature we will profile a question and answer each month.

Question
Mr N from Bridport wrote asking if we knew why the word 'Mayday' is used as a distress signal.

Answer
The word 'Mayday' is internationally recognised as an SOS distress signal. The word derived from the French 'M'aidez' meaning 'help me'.

It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency by many groups, such as police forces, pilots, firefighters, and transportation organisations. The call is always given three times in a row ("mayday-mayday-mayday") to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions and to distinguish an actual mayday call from a message about a mayday call.

The mayday callsign originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897–1962), a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. He 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 word 'm’aidez'.

Please note, as our exhibitions change regularly, the boats, objects and pictures featured in this section may not now be on display in the museum. Please contact us on 01326 313388 for further information.

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