Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Visual Distress Signals

All vessels used on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and those waters connected to them, up to a point where a body of water is less than two miles wide, must be equipped with U.S.C.G. Approved visual distress signals. Vessels owned in the United States operating on the high seas must have U.S.C.G. Approved visual distress signals.
These vessels are not required to carry day signals but must carry night signals when operating from sunset to sunrise:
1. Recreational boats less than 16 feet in length
2. Boats participating in organized events such as races, regattas, or marine parades.
3. Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length not equipped with propulsion machinery.
4. Manually propelled boats.
Pyrotechnic Devices
Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals must be Coast Guard Approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.
They are marked with an expiration date. Expired signals may be carried as extra equipment, but can not be counted toward meeting the visual distress signal requirement, since they are unreliable.
If pyrotechnic devices are selected a minimum of three are required. Which is, three signals for day use and three signals for night. There are some pyrotechnic signals that meet both day and night use requirements.
Pyrotechnic devices should be stored in a cool, dry location.
A watertight container painted red or orange and marked "DISTRESS SIGNALS" or "FLARES" is recommended.
U.S.C.G. Approved Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals and associated devices include:
Pyrotechnic red flares, hand-held or aerial.
Pyrotechnic orange smoke, hand-held or floating.
Launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares.
Non-Pyrotechnic Devices
Non-Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals must be in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and certified by the manufacturer as complying with U.S.C.G. requirements. They include:
Orange distress flag
Day signal only.
Must be at least 3 x 3 feet with a black square and ball on an orange background.
Must be marked with an indication that it meets Coast Guard requirements in 46 CFR 160.072.
Most distinctive when attached and waved on a paddle, boathook, or flown from a mast.
Electric distress light
Accepted for night use only
Automatically flashes the international SOS distress signal: (... — — — ...)
Must be marked with an indication that it meets Coast Guard requirements in 46 CFR 161.013.
Under Inland Navigation Rules, a high intensity white light flashing at regular intervals from 50-70 times per minute is considered a distress signal. Such devices do NOT count toward meeting the visual distress signal requirement, however.
Regulations prohibit display of visual distress signals on the water under any circumstances except when assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board a vessel.
All distress signals have distinct advantages and disadvantages. No single device is ideal under all conditions or suitable for all purposes. Pyrotechnics are universally recognized as distress signals. Pistol launched and hand-held parachute flares and meteors have many characteristics of a firearm and must be handled with caution. In some states they are considered a firearm and prohibited from use.
The following are just a few of the variety and combination of devices which can be carried in order to meet the requirements:
Three hand-held red flares (day and night).
One hand-held red flare and two parachute flares (day and night).
One hand-held orange smoke signal, two floating orange smoke signals (day) and one electric distress light (night only).