Visual Distress Signals (VDSs)

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. If pyrotechnic VDS are used, at least three must be carried in the vessel.

An operator who observes a distress signal must stop and render aid. It is prohibited to display visual distress signals unless assistance is needed.

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).

Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Pyrotechnic visual distress signal (VDS): Orange smoke day signal; red meteor day and night signal; red flare day and night signal

Orange smoke day signal; red meteor day and night signal; red flare day and night signal

Non-Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Non-pyrotechnic visual distress signal (VDS): electric light night signal; orange flag day signal

Electric light night signal; orange flag day signal

Visual distress signal (VDS): arm signal

Arm signal
Although this signal does not meet VDS equipment requirements, wave your arms to summon help if you do not have other distress signals on board.

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