Visual Distress Signals



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Although not required to carry visual distress signals during the day, kayakers should carry some type of daytime distress signal




From www.equipped.com

The signal mirror is the most basic and best all-around signaling device. Compact and simple to operate, it has been successfully used for many rescues. While any shiny object can and has been used for signaling (see illustration for how to do so), a purpose made signal mirror is generally brighter and the best are much easier to aim.

In normal sunlight, the flash from a good signal mirror can easily be seen for 10 miles and generally the flash will be visible up to 50 miles, depending upon atmospheric conditions. The record rescue from one is 105 miles, at sea. A mirror will even work on bright overcast days and with moonlight, though with much reduced range. Many experts recommend carrying two as you can then more easily signal in a 360 degree sweep with a little practice. An experienced user can signal up to 270 degrees, sometimes even a full 360 degrees if the sun is high, with a single mirror, but that is pushing it for most users. One mirror per person isn't such a bad idea.

A mirror 4 inches by 5 inches (standard United States Coast Guard size) or 3 inches by 5 inches (standard large mil-spec size) is ideal. Anything much larger gets to be unwieldy and can be difficult to use for extended periods or to aim accurately. Even the USCG size can be awkward for those with smaller hands, especially if it is made of heavy material. The smaller 2 inch by 3 inch size (standard small mil-spec size) work adequately and the convenient size is an asset. There are also a few manufacturers that make mirrors even smaller than this. Generally, the bigger the better, since brightness is partly a function of the reflective area. The other determinations of brightness is just how reflective the mirror actually is and how uniform and consistent the reflected beam is, which is determined by its design, the materials used and its condition.




From www.rescuestreamer.com



RescueStreamer ™ is an excellent signaling technology for water-based environments, whether you are boating, kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, or ditching your aircraft!

The RescueStreamer ™Holster unit clips to your belt or life jacket or fits into your fannypack and provides you with the only "passive and continuous" signaling device in case you become lost or injured.

The 5-ounce Holster unit unfurls to a 6 inch wide by 25 foot long bright orange streamer that clearly stands out relative to the natural water colors found in lakes or oceans, thereby continuously announcing your position to rescue parties.

With RescueStreamer ™, there is no need to rely on batteries, chemicals, or electronics - all which can fail in corrosive water-based environments.

Larger RescueStreamer ™units can be used for life rafts, kayaks, or boats to provide search parties with an enhanced signal target (up to 40 feet long) that works continuously, even if you are injured or asleep!




Federal Equipment Requirements
Visual Distress Signals

Information provided by
United States Coast Guard
Office of Boating Safety

on December 15th 2001

All vessels used on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and those waters connected directly 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 be equipped with U.S.C.G. Approved visual distress signals.

The following vessels are not required to carry day signals but must carry night signals when operating from sunset to sunrise:

  • Recreational boats less than 16 feet in length.
  • Boats participating in organized events such as races, regattas, or marine parades.
  • Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length not equipped with propulsion machinery.
  • Manually propelled boats. i.e KAYAKS

    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 may be unreliable.
      • Launchers manufactured before January 1, 1981, intended for use with approved signals, are not required to be Coast Guard Approved.
      • If pyrotechnic devices are selected a minimum of three are required. That is, three signals for day use and three signals for night. Some pyrotechnic signals meet both day and night use requirements.
      • Pyrotechnic devices should be stored in a cool, dry location, if possible.
      • A watertight container painted red or orange and prominently 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.

    [Each of these devices has a different operating (burning) time x seconds to y seconds. Check the label to see how long each pyrotechnic device will actually be illuminated. This will allow you to select a warning device better suited to the conditions where your boat will operate.]

    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.
      • May also be incorporated as part of devices designed to attract attention in an emergency, such as balloons, kites, or floating streamers.

    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 excellent distress signals. However, there is potential for injury and property damage if not properly handled. These devices produce a very hot flame and the residue can cause burns and ignite flammable materials.

      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).







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EVEN THE BEST BOATERS CAN FIND THEMSELVES IN SERIOUS TROUBLE ON THE MILDEST OF DAYS ON THE WATER. PARTICIPATION IN THIS SPORT IS A STRENUOUS ACTIVITY. CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE UNDERTAKING ANY SUCH ACTIVITY. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT EACH BOATER TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OR HER OWN SAFETY, AND IS TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ASSESSING THE DANGER LEVEL AND ACCEPTING THE CONSEQUENCES OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS SPORT.


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