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Visual Distress Signals

Non-pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Must carry the manufacturer's certification that they meet Coast Guard
requirements. They must be in serviceable condition and stowed to be
readily accessible.

This group includes:

  • Orange distress flag
  • Electric distress light

No single signaling device is ideal under all conditions and for all purposes. Consideration should therefore be given to carrying several types. For example,
an aerial flare can be seen over a long distance on a clear night, but for closer
work, a hand-held flare may be more useful.


Types of Visual Distress Signals

A wide variety of signaling devices, both pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic,
can be carried to meet the requirements of the regulation.

  • Recreational boats less than 16' operating in coastal waters need only carry night signaling devices when operated at night. All other boats must carry both night and day signaling devices.
  • Any combination can be carried as long as they add up to three signals for day use and three signals for night use. Three day/ night signaling devices meet both requirements.
Note: If pyrotechnic devices are selected, a minimum of three must be carried. Pyrotechnic devices come with an expiration date, which is 42 months from the date of manufacture. To meet carriage requirements, you must have at least three un-expired flares aboard. You may carry expired flares as back up, but they will not count towards the legal requirement.

The following details a combination of devices which can be carried in order to meet the requirements:


  • Three hand-held red flares (day and night). Flares must be under 42 months of age.
  • One electric distress light (night only)
  • One hand-held red flare and two parachute flares (day and night). One hand-held orange smoke signal,
    two floating orange smoke signals (day) and one electric distress light (night only). Flares must be
    under 42 months of age
    .