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 federally controlled waters must be equipped with USCG–approved VDSs. In Oregon, federally controlled waters include the mouth of the Columbia River and all coastal waters. 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
- Non-motorized boats
VDSs must be USCG–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.