It's the Law

Visual Distress Signals (VDSs)

Visual Distress Signals (VDSs) allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.

Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with visual distress signals. If pyrotechnic VDSs are used, at least three must be carried in the vessel.

An operator who observes a distress signal must stop and render aid. It is prohibited to display visual distress signals unless assistance is needed.

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).

Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Orange Smoke—Handheld 
Orange Smoke—Floating
Day Signal
Red Meteor 
Day and Night Signal 
Red Flare 
Day and Night Signal

Non-Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Electric Light 
Night Signal
Orange Flag 
Day Signal

Visual distress signal (VDS): arm signal

Arm signal

Although this signal does not meet VDS equipment requirements, wave your arms to summon help if you do not have other distress signals on board.