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Chapter 2: Boating Safety

Visual Distress Signals

Even with acute knowledge of all of the safety regulations and a stock of the proper equipment on board, accidents and emergencies can still occur. This is why visual distress signals (VDS) are important. A VDS is a device used to assist others in locating your boat in a time of emergency.

There are different kinds of VDS, some are effective at night, some are useful in daylight, and some are effective at any time. They can be pyrotechnic (in that they use flame and smoke) or non-pyrotechnic (in that they are non-combustible).

Regardless of the type of signal, it is against the law to use a VDS if one does not require assistance. This is because the urgency that a VDS creates can cause potential danger to your boat and other boats on the water. Think of it as pulling a fire alarm when no fire is present. Only use a VDS in an emergency.

Visual Distress Signals

Visual distress signals are legally required for any recreational boats used on U.S Coastal Waters or the Great Lakes, or any bodies of water directly connected to the U.S Coastal Waters or the Great Lakes up to a point where the waters are 2 miles wide.

Additionally, all boats owned in the U.S. must be equipped with a VDS when operating in international waters.

Certain boats are only required to carry night signals when operating after sunset. This includes any boats under 16 feet in length, any manually propelled boats or open sailboats under 26 feet, and any boat participating in an organized event.