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Signaling for Help on the Water

If you own and/or operate a boat, you should know how to use pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals (VDS) in case of an emergency. It IS also a good idea to be familiar with the federal and state requirements for these VDS on the water you are traveling. Knowing how to use VDS is crucial year round, but especially in the off-season since there are not many other travelers out to help you should you encounter a problem. Also, during these times frigid temperatures of the water may become fatal.

Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals are flares, red meteor launcher, and signals that give off smoke and/or a flame. These VDS will all have different burning times so you can choose the best one for you. If you are boating between sunset and sunrise, it is required you have at least 3 day signals and 3 night signals (or 3 used for both day and night), or an electric distress light that flashes SOS in Morse code. While this type of VDS is recommended, they do have the potential to become hazardous or cause injury. It's a good idea to read over the instructions and become aware of the potential dangers before use to decrease the chances of an accident.

If boating between sunrise and sunset, at least 3 pyrotechnic daytime items should be present on the boat. In addition you should also carry a distress flag. You may be in an area that does not have these requirements, but it is better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.

Non-pyrotechnic types of VDS are advantageous because they can be used for long periods of time. These VDS must be in working condition, certified by the US Coast Guard requirements, and easy to access in case of an emergency. An orange distress flag can be used for daytime signals and an electric distress light is for night use only. The electric distress light flashes the international SOS signal (…--…) automatically.

Spending your leisure time on a boat is fun and exciting, but it can easily turn into mayhem if not taken seriously and with precautionary measures. If you should have an emergency, make sure you are prepared so you can make it home safely once again!