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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).

VDSs are required to be carried on vessels when on Washington's coastal waters, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca east to Puget Sound, and on the Puget Sound/San Juan Island area of the state. (Contact your local U.S. Coast Guard Station for further information.) 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 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.

VDSs are not required to be carried on Washington's inland waters, but they are strongly recommended.