What are visual distress signals?

Boating and Visual Distress SignalsA visual distress signal (VDS) is any device designed to show that your boat is in distress and help others locate you. Flares and distress signals aren’t really things a boater wants to think about. But not thinking about them ahead of time can be disaster.

There are two types of devices signals, pyrotechnic devices and non-pyrotechnic devices…


Pyrotechnic Devices

  • Hand-held or aerial pyrotechnic red flares.
  • Launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares.
  • Hand-held of floating pyrotechnic orange smoke.

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

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Non Pyrotechnic Devices

  • Orange distress flag
  • Electric distress signal
  • Arm signals

Visual Distress Signal

[/twocol_one_last]According to the U.S. Coast Guard, all watercraft used on coastal waters, 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.

With exception to the following, they are only required to carry night signals when operating from sunset to sunrise…

  • Sailboats not equipped with propulsion machinery and less than 26 feet.
  • Manually propelled boats.
  • Recreational boats less than 16 feet.
  • Boats participating in events like, races, regattas, or marine parades.

Note: It is illegal to knowingly transmit a false distress or hoax call, whether it be by radio, telephone, emergency flares, or any other means of communication.

For more information regard Visual Distress Signals, go the United States Coast Guard website at www.uscg.mil