Requirement To Carry Visual Distress Signals
Visual distress signals (VDSs) allow vessel 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).
Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard–approved visual distress signals. 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:
- Recreational vessels that are less than 16 feet in length
- Non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length
- Manually propelled vessels
VDSs must be U.S. Coast Guard–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.
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.