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Flares and Emergency Signals

A simple offering of recognized distress signals is collected here, all designed to alert rescue of your position during dire times of emergency. Should the worst case scenario arise, the items here are prepared to immensely increase chances of survival. Preparation is simple: assemble these few safety items in a ditch bag at the start of a season, and include them as part of a routine check before a trip is underway. A pre-trip casual tour to guests regarding location of safety items is an easy way for you to double-check, and also helps ease any unspoken apprehension of passengers or crew. A ditch bag consolidating these items into one easily accessible spot is the single most cost effective life insurance at sea.

To assemble the appropriate selection of signaling devices, begin by assessing how much risk your biggest adventures pose to you. Should the boat be headed for offshore waters 50 or more miles from the coast, a larger collection of signaling devices with a higher range of visibility is called for. Coastal kayakers and fishermen in sight of shore need not carry the same extensive array of flares and smoke signals, but they should, nonetheless, have a means to call for help. The unfortunate statistical truth is that most drownings occur within sight of shore. In shoulder seasons with colder waters, a shore is often inaccessible because of hypothermia. The U.S. Coast Guard emphasizes that in situations of distress, the best chance for survival is to remain with an overturned vessel and await help. In such instances, signaling devices are critical.

Effective signaling kits should combine longer duration signals such as flags, floating streamers or signal mirrors, with high visibility momentary signals such as flares, smoke signals and dyes. Aerial signals offer the utmost in visible range, day and night, but since flares have a short duration, they are to be used with discretion. Aerial flares are only effective when rescue personnel or other vessels are within range to see them, and offer the most prominent indicator of your location. Since flares are considered a pyrotechnic device, most are not able to be shipped, and thus are only available for local pickup or delivery. Dyes and surface streamers provide excellent contrast on a vast ocean for a chance to be seen by rescue helicopters or planes. Signal mirrors are perhaps the easiest and single most effective tool for a person in distress at sea. The limitation is for daytime use only, but simply sighting rescue personnel through a signal mirror and flashing the mirror with a slight flicker is effective for miles. Simple safety whistles that can be sounded by a swimmer suffice as sound signaling devices, and are an excellent item to affix to a PFD.

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