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Visual Distress Signals

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The many common technique that a mariner supplies to notify the shore Guard that they are in distress is via their maritime VHF-FM radio. Ns strongly encourage all boaters to have a radio on board your vessel, especially if their boating tasks take them offshore. Throughout the past year shore Guard Station ft Pierce has responded come at least 75 situations in i beg your pardon the boat and also crew to be reported overdue. These vessels would have actually been may be to call for and also obtain help a many sooner if they had actually a radio top top board. In one instance the vessel with its two inhabitants were drifting phibìc at 4 knots in the Gulf Stream. They were an extremely lucky that us were may be to situate their speck of a vessel on the large expanse of the ocean.

Annex IV the the shore Guard’s navigation Rules publication lists numerous of the additional marine intuitive distress signals that have the right to be offered to entice attention. They encompass a total fired at intervals that one minute (extreme treatment must be used when shoot weapons), a constant sounding that a fog signaling apparatus, red flares, SOS morse code, the native Mayday spoken over the radio telephone, the international speak to letters N.C. (November, Charlie), a visual signal consists of a square boat distress flag having above or below it a round or any thing resembling a ball, flames ~ above a vessel, orange smoke, slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side, emergency positioning indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), in inland waters just a high soot white irradiate flashing at 50 to 70 times a minute.

The coast Guard calls for that entertain vessels carry three day and also three night visual distress signals. The exceptions to this regulation are powered vessels under 16 feet and also open sailing vessels under 26 feet there is no motors. These 2 exceptions are forced to lug them if operated at night on seaside waters. Coastal waters are identified as:

The ar sea (ocean)Great LakesBays, or sounds which empty into (1) and also (2) aboveRivers over 2 miles across at your mouths and also upstream to wherein the river narrows to two miles

The coastline Guard requires that the three forced day night signals be shore Guard Approved. Table (1) below, provides a perform of the required signals, and describes even if it is they space a pyrotechnic signal and whether they space approved as day, or a day and night signal. The electric distress light must be maybe to instantly flash the signal SOS, 3 short, 3 long, three short.

At the existing time the serviceable life of a pyrotechnic an equipment is rated in ~ 42 month from its date of manufacture. Pyrotechnics past this 42 month date should be replaced with brand-new devices. I strongly encourage the you carefully check the expiration date before purchasing pyrotechnics. The handle of expired pyrotechnic devices should be done in accordance with local county and also state hazardous garbage regulations. Please inspect with these neighborhood authorities to achieve the correct disposal procedures.

USCG authorized Visual Distress Signals


Table 1: visual Distress Signals
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Pyrotechnic intuitive Distress signals
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Non-Pyrotechnic intuitive Distress signal
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160.072161.013Orange FlagElectric Distress LightDay OnlyNight Only


Extreme care should be worked out when making use of pyrotechnic devices. Castle burn v an intense heat which can cause severe burns if they are improperly used. Before using be sure to review all manufacturers instructions.

If you are in the unfortunate situation of being in distress it would not typically be wise to fire off every one of your flares at once and then be left with no method of signaling an approaching search vessel. If no one is in sight, fire off one in an effort to attract attention native someone beyond your heat of sight over the horizon. Await a visual response of some type i.e., one approaching vessels lights. As the vessel philosophies your vicinity fire off one more signal, thereby, assisting the vessel come zero in on her position. That is not unusual for the shore Guard search vessel come energize the regulation enforcement blue light in an attempt to attract a flare from the vessel or human being that room in distress. Therefore, if you room in distress and also see the flashing blue light in the street you may want come signal the shore Guard search vessel through a flare.

If pyrotechnic intuitive distress signal can’t be used, climate an orange flag deserve to be supplied in the work time, or an electric orange light can be provided at night. Both of this are shore Guard authorized visual distress signals.

If you space a boater who observes a flare, your understanding of specific information that the coastline Guard demands to respond may save a life. The first thing we require to understand is your position. Latitude and also longitude is preferred, however we have the right to work through a geographical position if the is all the is available. Next we would prefer to acquire a magnetic bearing from her vessel. You can achieve this by looking over the top of her vessels compass toward the direction of the flare. Friend may be able to just allude your ship in the direction and read the compass. With your information and that of one more reporting resource we will be able to cross the bearings and obtain an approximated position in i m sorry to center our find efforts

Often there is just one reporting source with a position and magnetic bearing, in this instance we require to obtain the edge which the flare rose over the horizon from her position. The simplest way for friend to recognize this is by stretching your hand out in prior of you and making a fist. Heat the bottom of her fist up v the horizon. Every finger in your fist is same to about two degrees when compared with the horizon. All we need to understand is how many fingers the flare rose over the horizon. We will also request to understand if the flare rose and also fell in ~ an equal rate (meteor flare) or climbed quickly and also descended gradually (parachute flare). This summary will assist us identify the elevation the the flare rose. With all of this information we have the right to now estimate how far the flare was fired from your position and support our efforts to narrow down the ocean to a much more manageable search area so that we can conveniently locate those in distress,

To learn an ext complete a USCG assistant Boating an abilities and Seamanship Course. Also, ns encourage that you have actually your local shore Guard auxiliary Flotilla conduct a complimentary courtesy marine examination of her vessel. For answers to these and many more questions please speak to the coast Guard’s Boating safety Hotline at 1-800-368-5647.

For much more information ~ above distress signals, view Graphic graph of intuitive Distress Signals for Boats.

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intuitive Distress signals


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Red StarShells Fog Hornf ContinuousSoundings Flames onA vessel pistol Fired in ~ Intervals the One Minute
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OrangeBackgroundBlack ball &Square SOS “Mayday”by Radio ParachuteRed Flare
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Dye Marker(any color) code FlagsNovemberCharlie Square Flagand ball WaveArms
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Radio-TelegraphAlarm Radio-TelephoneAlarm Epirb acting

If in doubt, constantly remember the answer to this question:

“What is the worldwide emergency signal because that distress?”

The worldwide recognized signal for distress concentrates on the number 3. 3 bursts of any kind of signal, together as 3 whistles, 3 flashes of a light, or three bursts the sound. In open up areas, a huge X is typically seen together a distress signal: a huge X attracted on the ground, as huge as you have the right to make it, will entice attention.