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Visual distress signals (VDSs) allow vessels to signal for emergency help. VDSs must be USCG–approved, in serviceable condition, unexpired, and readily accessible. In Virginia, you are allowed to carry VDSs in excess of the minimum requirements on recreational vessels.

Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with USCG–approved VDSs. 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 USCG–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.

It is prohibited to display VDSs while on the water unless assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board a boat.