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Course Outline

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 in most areas of Puget Sound and the San Juan Island area and strongly recommended in all other areas. 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 are not required to be carried on Washington's inland waters, but they are strongly recommended.
  • VDSs must be USCG–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.
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