Adventures in Boating Washington Handbook
The Official Boating Handbook of the Washington State Parks - Web Version
Table of Contents
Visual Distress Signals (VDSs)
Visual distress signals (VDSs) allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.
All vessels on coastal waters, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most vessels on coastal waters must carry day signals also.
Exceptions to the day signals requirement
- 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 are not required to be carried on Washington's inland waters, but they are strongly recommended.
If pyrotechnic VDSs are used, they must be dated. Expired VDSs may be carried on board, but a minimum of three must be carried in the vessel.
U.S. Coast Guard Requirements
The following combinations of signals are examples of VDSs that could be carried on board to satisfy USCG requirements:
- Three handheld red flares (day and night)
- One handheld red flare and two red meteors (day and night)
- One handheld orange smoke signal (day), two floating orange smoke signals (day), and one electric light (night only)
It is prohibited to display VDSs while on the water unless assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board.
VDS Requirements for the Puget Sound/San Juan Island Area
VDSs are required in most areas of Puget Sound and the San Juan Island Area and strongly recommended in all others.
Definition: Coastal Waters
- The U.S. waters of the Great Lakes
- The territorial seas of the United States
- Waters (such as bays, sounds, harbors, rivers, inlets, etc.) which are more than two miles wide and are connected directly to one of the above