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Visual Distress Signals (VDSs) allow boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency. 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).

Boats on some waters with joint state and federal jurisdiction need to be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard–approved visual distress signals (VDSs). The only body of water in Minnesota where VDSs are required is Lake Superior.

All boats, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most boats must carry day signals also; exceptions to the requirement for day signals are:

  • Recreational boats that are less than 16 feet in length
  • Non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length
  • Manually propelled boats

VDSs must be U.S. Coast Guard–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.

Note: 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 boat.