Safety Signal Equipment You Should Have Aboard Your PWC Or Boat

Visual distress signals and sound-making devices are two of the most commonly overlooked safety items you should have aboard. But chances are a lot of boat owners don't even realize what they need. PWC can often get by, as they're not legal to operate at night. Still, if you're riding along a coast somewhere, or in big water like the Great Lakes, it's nice to have a little peace of mind should you get stranded. Other types of boats? You need to have the required equipment, period.

16th March 2010.
By Jeff Hemmel

Visual distress signals and sound-making devices are two of the most commonly overlooked safety items you should have aboard. But even those who realize they need them aren’t always sure what’s required. PWC owners may rationalize they don’t need them, as PWC are not legal to operate at night. Still, if you’re riding along a coast somewhere, or in big water like the Great Lakes, it’s nice to have a little peace of mind should you get stranded. Other types of boats? You need to have the required equipment, period, both for your safety and to satisfy the Coast Guard requirements.

Here’s the breakdown:

Visual Signals
According to Coast Guard regs, craft on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and waters connected to them, must carry visual signal devices for both day and nighttime use. The requirements are for a minimum of three for daytime, and three for night. A trio of combination day/night signals are allowed.

Orion Handheld Red Signal Flares

Seem like overkill? It depends just where you do your boating. Most experts suggest inland boaters carry at least eight handheld red flares and/or aerial flares. Those boating along a coastline should consider four handheld red flares, four aerial flares, and one smoke flare. Watch the expiration dates; though the flares may still work, they won’t pass inspection with the Coast Guard. Flares are often packaged in watertight containers, making them easy to carry in a storage compartment.

Other good visual signals are an orange distress flag and/or signal mirror.

Sound Device

Big boat or PWC, you need to have some type of horn or whistle aboard. It needs to be able to produce at least a continuous four-second signal, and be heard at least a 1/2-mile away. If you’re a boater, back up the horn with a whistle, as electronics can fail. Pealess-style, SOLAS-approved whistles are best.

Portable Air Horn Is Great For Boaters

Boater or PWC owner, consider a handheld air horn. Most can produce a blast audible for up to a mile. There are also manual-type horns on the market that can produce a very loud blast and carry beyond a mile.

As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe…than sorry.


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About the author:

Jeff Hemmel

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Jeff Hemmel writes for boats.com, Boating, PersonalWatercraft.com, and Powersports Business. The former Senior Editor at Watercraft World, Jeff is a multi-time award winner as well as a 2008 inductee into the IJSBA Hall of Fame. His first book, "The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon...and 101 Other Things For Young Mariners To Try, Do, & Build On the Water," received a bronze medal in the 2010 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. For more info, visit Jeff Hemmel's website.

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