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Sound Producing Devices

In periods of reduced visibility or whenever a vessel operator needs to signal his or her intentions or position, a sound producing device is essential. Know the rules for meeting head-on, crossing, and overtaking situations. The sound producing device may be a whistle, horn, or bell that is audible for 1/2 mile. All vessels on state and federally controlled waters must have a sound producing device to communicate.

Common Sound Signals

Some common sound signals that you should be familiar with as a recreational boater are:
  • A short blast, lasting one second.
  • A prolonged blast lasting 4-6 seconds.

Changing direction

  • One short blast tells other boaters, “I intend to pass you on my port (left side).”
  • Two short blasts tell other boaters, “I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side.”
  • Three short blasts tell other boaters, “I am backing up.”

Restricted Visibility

  • One prolonged blast at intervals of not more than two minutes is a signal used by power driven vessels when underway.
  • One prolonged blast, plus 2 short blasts at intervals of not more than two minutes apart, is the signal used by sailing vessels.
     Make way for large commercial vessels -who will sound their horns to boaters to move out of the main shipping channel.
  • One prolonged blast is a warning signal (for example, used when coming around a blind bend or exiting a slip).
  • Five or more short rapid blasts signal danger, or signal that you do not understand or that you disagree with the other boater’s intentions.

Graphic of different sound signaling devices