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Visual distress signals (VDSs) allow paddlers to signal for emergency help.

  • Vessels on federally controlled waters must carry USCG—approved visual distress signals.
    • All vessels must carry night signals when operating at night.
    • Manually propelled canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are not required to carry day signals. However, you may want to carry one or more as a precaution.
    • If your paddlecraft is equipped with a motor, you may be required to carry day signals. The need for additional signals will depend on where you are operating and the length of your vessel.
  • If pyrotechnic VDSs are used, a minimum of three must be carried in the vessel.
  • It is illegal to display visual distress signals if you are not in need of immediate, emergency assistance.
  • Check with your state’s boating agency for any specific requirements for visual distress signals on state waters.