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Learn to recognize visual distress signals.  Everything from waving the arms slowly up and down from a person's side, to waving an orange flag, using a sound horn, bell or whistle repeatedly (5 times or more) are considered signs of boater distress.  Visual distress signals (VDS) allow boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.  VDSs are classified as day signals (visible in bring sunlight), night signals (visible at night), or both day and night signals.  VDSs are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible).  
Flare infographicVisual Distress Signal Infographic

Boats of federally controlled waters must be equipped with the U.S. Coast Guard -approved visual distress signals.  In Oregon, federally controlled waters include the mouth of the Columbia River and all coastal waters (bays).  All vessels, regardless of length or type are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise.  Most vessels 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, and;
  • Manually propelled (non-motorized) boats like kayaks, stand up paddleboards, etc. 
VDSs must be U.S. Coast Guard -approved, in serviceable condition and readily accessible.  
  • A minimum of three must be carried and not past their expiration date. 

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." 

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