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Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Sounds and Signals

Sound Producing Devices

In periods of reduced visibility or whenever a boat operator needs to signal his or her intentions or position, a sound producing device is essential. The device must be audible for at least one-half mile. Use the list below to determine what is required based on your boats length:

State Waters:

  • Less than 26 (includes PWC) - None required, but highly recommended
  • 26 or longer - Whistle, horn or other sound signal

Federally Controlled Waters:

  • Less than 39.4 (includes PWC) - Whistle or horn required
  • 39.4 or longer - Whistle or horn and bell required
Some Common Sound Signals

Restricted Visibility:

  • Powerboats: One prolonged blast every two minutes
  • Sailboats: One prolonged plus two short blasts every two minutes


  • Warning signal: One prolonged blast (for example, when coming around a blind bend)
  • Danger signal: Five or more blasts
Visual Distress Signals (VDSs)

Boats used on federally controlled waters, must be equipped with U. S. Coast Guard-approved VDSs.

If pyrotechnic VDSs are used, a minimum of three must be carried in the boat. All boats are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. The following boats must also carry day signals:

  • Recreational boats 16 feet or longer
  • Non-motorized, open sailboats 26 feet or longer

The following combinations of signals are examples of VDSs that could be carried onboard to satisfy U. S. Coast Guard requirements:

  • Three hand-held red flares (day and night)
  • Three orange smoke signals (day only) and one electric light (night only) 





Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Orange Smoke

Red Meteor

Red Flare

Day Signal


Day and Night Signal


Day and Night Signal





Non-Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals

Electric Light

Orange Flag

Arm Signal

Night Signal

Day Signal

Although not a U. S. Coast Guard approved VDS, use this arm action to indicate you need help if you do not have other visual distress signals available.

Federally Controlled Waters
  • Boats must observe federal requirements when operating on:
  • Coastal waters
  • The Great Lakes
  • Territorial seas
  • Waters which are two miles wide or wider and are directly connected to one of the above

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