Is Your Vessel U.S. Coast Guard Compliant?

2020 Updated Guide to Marine Distress Signals

Boat Safety Checklist

Use this list* and check your state’s requirements for local laws to be safe on the water. Call your local Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary for a Vessel Safety Check.

  • Coast Guard Compliant Marine Distress Signal Devices
    All vessels are required to carry daytime and nighttime approved devices. Review proper use and storage.
  • Personal Floatation Devices
    Vessels must carry one USCG-compliant life jacket per person aboard. Check each one for accessibility, sizing and whistles. Cheildren under 13 must always wear life jackets wiile on board. All vessels over 16′ are required to have one throwable flotation device.
  • Sound Signaling Devices
    A sound signaling device is required aboard all boats for use in fog, signaling bridges and in emergencies.
  • First Aid Kit
    Purchase a kit that will fit your needs in a minor emergency
  • Anchor with Anchor Line
    Check and replace any worn lines. Lines should be at least 5-7 times the water depth.
  • Fire Extinguisher
    Check USCH requirements for size and number. Fire extinguishers must be USCG approved and marine-specific. Charge and store them properly.

* This list is not exhaustive. In some cases, Boating Safety Education Certificates and/or Watersports Flags are required. Always check official USCG regulations before booking.

US Coast Guard Visual Distress Signal Requirements

What Are the Coast Guard Requirements for Marine Distress Signal Devices?

Vessels over 16′ in length are required to carry visual distress signals. Nighttime non-pyrotechnic eVDSDs must automatically flash the SOS signal in either all white or orange-red/cyan and certify that they meet the 46 CFR 161.013 or RTCM Standard 13200.0 requirements.

A device must be on all boats operated on the high seas, coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas and all waters directly connected to these, up to a point where the waters are less than two miles wide.

In addition to the visual distress signals, all boats must have emergency sound signals as well.

What Vessels Must Meet the Requirements?

All boats must comply if on designated waters at night. Vessels must have a combination of day and nighttime devices (flares) or one each of:

  • Daytime distress signalling devices (flag, smoke signal)
  • Nighttime electronic visual distress signal device (eVDSD – non pyrotechnic)

During daytime operation, the following boats do not need to comply:

  • Recreational boats less than 16′ in length.
  • Boats participating in organized events, such as races, regattas and parades
  • Open sailboats without propulsion machinery and less than 26′ in length
  • Manually propelled boats

How Many Signals Does Each Vessel Need?

Each boat nees only one SOS eVDSD non pyrotechnic marine signal device and one orange emergency flag to be Coast Guard compliant. Alternatively, a minimum of three pyrotechnic devices must be carried.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to Comply?

Pursuant to the Coast Guard regulations, the Coast Guard may issue a civil penalty up to $1,000.

US Coast Guard Compliant Day and Night Distress Signals

Sirius Signal recommends using a non-pyrotechnic electronic visual distress signal device (eVDSD), with an orange flag for your safety, and maximm visibility in emergency situations. Below are the US Coast Guard approved devices:

Using Marine Distress Signals

Operation and Inspection

Acquaint yourself and all members aboard with emergency protocol and proper distress signal device use.

Before the boating season, turn on your non-pyrotechnic device to make sure you know how it works and that the batteries are in good condition. If using pyrotechnic devices, check expiration dates and dispose of expired devices.


Your non-pyrotechnic (electronic) device never expires and can last the lifetime of your boat. Annually check and dispose of dead batteries.

Pyrotechnic devices expire 42 months after manufacturing and need to be disposed of properly to avoid danger to people and the environment. Check the printed expiration dates and contact the manufacturer or reseller for advice on proper disposal of expired flares and flares that will expire in the upcoming boating season. Never throw expired devices overboard or in household trash.

WARNING: It is illegal to use flare launchers as weapons or for any other than emergency distress signaling. User may be subject to civil or criminal action under state firearm laws.

Use and Care

Your non-pyrotechnic device is waterproof and submersible. Store in an easily accessible location on your boat and make all members aboard aware of its location.

Pyrotechnic devices need to be stored in a dry location on your boat. DO NOT store pyrotechnic devices loaded, as it may endanger those on the boat.

Approved Non-Pyrotechnic Devices

SOS eVDSD Devices

Carrying either SOS eVDSD device with the square orange flag meets all of the US Coast Guard daytime and nighttime requirements.

C-1003 White eVDSD

This electronic flare satisfies 46 CFR 161.013.

C-1002 Red-Orange/Cyan

This electronic flare satisfies RTCM 13200.0.

Never Buy Flares Again!™