Courtesy Orion Safety Products, Courtesy Sirius Signal
Visual distress signals (VDS) are mandatory on most boats but hopefully never needed. VDS come in various flavors. You should not only check at the start of every season to make sure your flares are up to date, but also know which type of US Coast Guard-approved flare works best for you. If you’re an offshore boater, you’ll want to consider SOLAS-rated flares. But for most coastal and inland boaters, these three different types should work.
Flare Gun: Orion 12-Gauge High-Performance Alerter Basic Flare Kit
The Flash: Great for coastal and inland boating, a flare gun is easy to use and can shoot a signal flare up to 500 feet in the air. It burns at 16,000 candelas for seven seconds and should provide a good emergency signal to other boaters and potential rescuers nearby. Because they shoot high in the air, they can be seen from farther away than a typical handheld flare.
The Bang: Shorter burn than other options, and the gun can be dangerous if not handled properly.
Price: $99.99; westmarine.com
Handheld Flare: Orion Red Handheld Locate Flares
The Flash: Handhelds are an inexpensive way to meet Coast Guard requirements. They are not visible at as great a distance as gun-fired or other aerial flares, they but last longer, up to three minutes. They are waterproof and float, and also self-ignite, so they are simple to use. They should be visible to potential rescuers within a 3-mile radius.
The Bang: These expire and must be replaced every 42 months, and they can burn you and your boat if not handled properly.
Price: $38.99; westmarine.com
Read Next: E-flare Options for Boaters
Electronic Rescue Signal: Sirius Signal C-1002 Distress Light with Flag and Whistle
The Flash: It can operate for two to six hours, providing a much longer visual for potential rescuers. It runs on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and produces an alternating red-and-orange-colored distress signal visible for up to 10 nautical miles.
The Bang: It’s the most expensive option but reusable. It is not approved for daytime use, so you need to carry an SOS flag (included).
Price: $299.95; siriussignal.com