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Visual Distress Signals: Flares & Maritime Visuals

Maritime visual distress signals are extremely important because they are very effective tools to assist you if you are in a situation where you are trapped in the middle of the water. However, if you don’t know which distress signal or flare to use, you could exhaust all of your rescue resources without reaching any means of communication.

Before you go out on the water ensure that that you are leaving with the appropriate visual distress signals and that they are in good condition. Pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic devices include:

  • Floating Orange Smoke Signal (day only)
  • Orange Signal Flag (day only)
  • Red Handheld Flare (day and night)
  • Parachute Flare (day and night)
  • Red Meteor (day and night)
  • Orange Smoke Signal (handheld/day only)
  • Electric Distress Light (night only)

Under Federal law, all U.S. owned boats used on coastal waters, Great Lakes, the territorial seas and waters directly connected to the Great Lakes and the territorial seas, up to a point where the waters are less than two miles wide, need to be equipped with visual distress signals.

If you own a boat under 16’, distress signals are only required when operating between sunset and sunrise. If you operate a 16’ boat at night, you need to have a combination of three day/night flares or one electric distress light.

If you own a boat over 16’, you need to have one of the following combinations below with you at all tiimes:

  • One electric distress light and orange distress flag
  • Three combination day/night red flares; meteor, handheld or parachute type
  • Three floating or handheld orange smoke signals and one electric distress light

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