BoatUS Foundation: ‘5 Ways to Be Seen and Heard’ when you really need to summon help

National Safe Boating Week

May 18, 2023

Visual distress signals can be very effective for summoning help from those assets closest to your location – fellow boaters – potentially shortening response time.

When you have an emergency on the water, how do you get help? For National Safe Boating Week, May 21-27, the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is reminding boaters that having the ability to be seen and heard is critically important. Here are five ways boaters can prepare for a safe summer on the water and, if necessary, summon rescuers to your location.

 

• VHF Radio – A VHF (Very High Frequency) radio is the most reliable way to communicate with other boats and emergency responders on most waterways. New Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radios with a red distress button can even send an emergency call and other important information such as your location to authorities automatically when properly installed and registered.
 
• Emergency Beacon – An emergency beacon, such as an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) can be activated to send a distress signal to satellites and rescue authorities. These devices are designed to work in remote areas where cellphone coverage is not available. EPIRBs and PLBs can be rented from the BoatUS Foundation.
 
• Sound-Producing Device – A sound producing device, such as an installed horn, a handheld air horn, and even a whistle, can be used to signal for help. Five or more blasts from a horn or a whistle indicate danger or a dangerous situation is unfolding. Sound-producing devices are required by law on most boats and can be heard over a considerable distance.
 
• Visual Distress Signals – Visual Distress Signals (VDS) such as pyrotechnic flares and certain battery-operated SOS light beacons can be used to signal for help when you’re out on the water. Flares and Coast Guard-approved distress lights can be seen from several miles away and are an effective way to signal for help when other methods of communication are not available.
 
• Distress Flag – A distress flag is an orange flag with a black square and a black circle. If you’re in distress, you can hoist the flag to signal other boats that you need assistance. This is a good alternative for use on small, wet watercraft, like kayaks and personal watercraft where traditional flares could get wet or storage aboard is a challenge.

 

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