Visual Distress Signals (VDSs) allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.
• Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with visual distress signals that are U.S. Coast Guard—approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.
• All vessels, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most vessels must carry day signals also; exceptions to the requirement for day signals are:
o Recreational vessels that are less than 16 feet in length
o Non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length
o Manually propelled vessels
• If pyrotechnic VDSs are used, a minimum of three must be carried in the vessel. Also, pyrotechnic VDSs must be dated and may not be carried past their expiration date.
• The following combinations of signals are examples of VDSs that could be carried on board to satisfy U.S. Coast Guard requirements:
o Three handheld red flares (day and night)
o One handheld red flare and two red meteors (day and night)
o One handheld orange smoke signal (day), two floating orange smoke signals (day), and one electric light (night only)
• It is prohibited to display visual distress signals while on the water unless assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board a vessel.
VDSs are classified as day signals (visible in bright sunlight), night signals (visible at night), or both day and night signals. VDSs are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible).
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