Resource Guide

Developing Visual DISTRESS SIGNAL (VDS) Requirements for State Boating Laws

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Modern Electronic Alternatives to Pyrotechnical Devices for Visual Distress Signaling and US Coast Guard Safety Equipment Requirements

There are modern, environmentally friendly electronic alternatives to pyrotechnical devices (flares) for signaling distress at night. An electric light designed as a flare alternative is not a regular flashlight. Instead, an electronic visual distress signal device (eVDSD) is a handheld device that must automatically flash the International Morse Code for S-O-S and float in the water. The eVDSDs are approved for nighttime use only and must adhere to specific specifications to meet US Coast Guard safety equipment carriage requirements listed in 33CFR 175.103.
In order to replace flares and meet US Coast Guard Night Visual Distress Signal safety equipment carriage requirements, an eVDSD must be certified by the manufacturer as complying with the federal design requirements which apply to these devices. To meet USCG nighttime VDS carriage requirements, each eVDSD device must be marked with one or a combination of the following statements on the label or device:

  1. FOR THE ALL WHITE SOS distress light “Night Visual Distress Signal for Boats Complies with U.S. Coast Guard Requirements in 46 CFR 161.013 For Emergency Use Only ” (1979 standard).
  2. FOR THE RED/ORANGE-CYAN two color SOS distress light “ Complies with RTCM Standard 13200.0 for an eVDSD For Emergency use only ” (CG-ENG Policy adopted 6/21/2018).

Excerpt from the Boater’s Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boaters 2023

“Electronic Visual Distress Signal Device (eVDSD) • Acceptable for night use only. • Automatically flashes the international SOS distress signal (• • • – – – • • •).18 • Must be marked with an indication that it meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements in 46 CFR 161.013 or • Must be marked with an indication it meets RTCM Std. 13200.0 for an eVDSD, Night Visual Distress Signal for Boats. For Emergency Use Only. USCG accepted for nighttime distress signal per 33 CFR 175.130 by CG-ENG Policy Letter 03-18.