Boating Basics Online - Basic Boating Safety Course
Chapter 4 - Required Equipment

Visual Distress Signals

All watercraft used on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and those waters connected directly to them, up to a point where a body of water is less than two miles wide, must be equipped with U.S.Coast Guard approved visual distress signals (VDS). Boats owned in the United States operating on the high seas must be equipped with U.S.Coast Guard approved visual distress signals.

Chart showing demarcation lines

These watercraft are not required to carry day signals but must carry night signals when operating from sunset to sunrise:

These signaling devices must be in serviceable condition, stowed where readily accessible and marked with a date showing serviceable life. Make sure they have not expired. (Distress flares, smoke flares and meteor rockets have expiration dates 42 months after the date of manufacture.)

U. S. Coast Guard regulations prohibit display of distress signals except when a distress actually exists. You should only use distress signals when help is close enough to see the signal. The U. S. Coast Guard recognizes both pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic devices.

A minimum of three pyrotechnic devices must be carried. Pyrotechnic VDSs must be U. S. Coast Guard approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.

The following combinations of signals are examples of Pyrotechnic VDSs that could be carried onboard to satisfy U. S. Coast Guard requirements:

Hand held flair

Pyrotechnic orange smoke.
Pyrotechnic red flares,
hand-held or aerial
Launchers for aerial red
meteors or parachute flares
Pyrotechnic orange smoke,
hand-held or floating

Non-Pyrotechnic Devices Include:
Orange flag with exclamation point on it
Flash light and strobe light
Or , within sight of another person, you can signal
distress by extending
both arms out and
raising them up and down.
Orange distress flag
Electric distress signal

Information about the use of flares :

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