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.
These watercraft are not required to carry day signals but must carry night signals when operating from sunset to sunrise:
- Recreational boats less than 16 feet in length
- Boats participating in organized events such as races, regattas, or marine parades.
- Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length not equipped with propulsion machinery.
- Manually propelled boats.
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:
- Three hand-held red flares (day and night)
- One hand-held red flare and two red meteors (day and night).
- One hand-held orange smoke signal (day), two floating orange smoke signals (day) and one electric light (night only).
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:
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 :
- Read and understand the instructions
- Note expiration date and replace as necessary
- Hold lighted flares downwind and away from the boat
- Do not point them at anyone and hold away from your body
- Store in a watertight container such as a zip-lock bag
- Store where readily accessible and ready to use
- Use only in case of an emergency