Monday, January 28, 2008


The most common method that a mariner uses to notify the Coast Guard that they are in distress is via their marine VHF-FM radio. Annex IV of the Coast Guard’s Navigation Rules publication lists many of the additional distress signals that can be used to attract attention. They include a gun fired at intervals of one minute, a continuous sounding of a fog signaling apparatus, red flares, SOS morse code, the words Mayday spoken over the radio telephone, the international call letters N.C. (November, Charlie), a visual signal consisting of a square flag having above or below it a ball or any thing resembling a ball, flames on a vessel, orange smoke, slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side, emergency positioning indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), in inland waters only a high intensity white light flashing at 50 to 70 times a minute.

The Coast Guard requires that recreational vessels carry three day and three night visual distress signals. The exceptions to this regulation are powered vessels under 16 feet and open sailing vessels under 26 feet without motors. These two exceptions are required to carry them if operated at night on coastal waters. The Coast Guard requires that the three required day night signals be Coast Guard Approved. I strongly encourage that you check the expiration date before purchasing pyrotechnics. Be careful using pyrotechnic devices. They burn with an intense heat.

If you are in the situation of being in distress do not fire off all of your flares at once and then be left with no means of signaling an approaching vessel. If no one is in sight, fire off one in an attempt to draw attention from someone beyond your line of sight over the horizon. Await a visual response of some kind such as another vessel. As the vessel approaches your vicinity fire off another signal, letting the vessel to zero in on your position. If you are a boater who observes a flare, your knowledge of information that the Coast Guard needs to respond may save a life. The first thing they need to know is your position. Latitude and longitude is best, or a magnetic bearing from your vessel. You can get this by looking over the top of your vessels compass toward the direction of the flare. You may be able to just point your vessel in that direction and read the compass.