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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)

Visual distress signals (VDS) allow 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  

VDSs are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible).  

Flare infographicVisual Distress Signal Infographic

All boats operating on the ocean outside of Oregon's ports and bays must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved visual distress signals. If operating at night, all vessels under 16' long must carry distress signals suitable for night use. Operators must select the appropriate devices as referenced in 33CFR175.110.

Note that small vessels – those under 16' and non-powered sailboats of open construction under 26' – are not required to carry day signals during the day.

Visual Distress Signals must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, in good condition, and easy to get to in emergencies.  A minimum of three VDS must be carried and be within 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."