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Learn to recognize visual distress signals. Signs of a boater in distress include:
  • Waving your arms up and down
  • Waving an orange flag,
  • Using a sound horn, bell, or whistle blasting (5 times or more)

All boats operating in the ocean or coastal waters west of the line of demarcation (jetty tips) must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved VDS.

VDS allows boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.  

There are three categories of visual distress signals:

1.    Day signals (visible in bright sunlight)

2.    Night signals (visible at night)

3.    Both day and night signals  

VDS are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible and electronic). Operators must select the appropriate devices and have the minimum quantity as referenced in 33CFR175.110 depending on which category. VDS must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible. 

If pyrotechnic devices are selected, a minimum of three must be carried. Any combination can be carried as long as they add up to three signals for day use and three signals for night use. Three day/night signaling devices meet both requirements. There's a variety and different combinations of pyrotechnic devices which can be onboard to meet the carriage requirements.

The most common U.S. Coast Guard-approved non-pyrotechnic devices are an Orange Day Flag (day) and Electronic Distress Signal (night) to meet requirements.


VHF-FM Radio Distress "Mayday" Call Procedures

Make sure the radio is on.  Select Channel 16
  • Press/hold the transmit button
  • Speak slowly, and clearly say: MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY
  • Give the following information: OR Number/Boat Name, Nature of Emergency, Position and/or Location, Number of People Aboard
  • Release Transmit button
  • Wait for 10 seconds -if no response, repeat "Mayday" call.  If not in immediate danger, switch to Channel 22 and follow the same steps as above, except do not use the word, "Mayday." 
VHF Marine Radio every boater in saltwater or brackish water should have and know how to use