Emergency Situation

5.2 Distress Signal


In an emergency, pleasure craft operators have a number of methods by which they can attract attention. Flares, not required in boats up to 6m, are one of those. Small boat operators venturing any distance from shore, should consider carrying flares even if they do not have to.

Transport Canada has approved four types of flares; (see diagram, clockwise from top) parachute flares that float back to earth after being fired, buoyant and hand-held flares to be used on the water's surface and rockets or shells, throwing red stars fired one at a time at short intervals. Flares must be approved for use in Canada.

  • Read and understand the directions for using flares, prior to needing them
  • Flares are only valid for four years after the date of manufacture
  • Hold lit flares on the downwind side of the boat
  • Do not point them at anyone
  • Hold them away from your body
  • Store in a watertight container in a dry location
  • Keep them readily accessible
  • They are used only in an emergency

Ball and Square

Any ball and square either over or under

N over C

International Codeflags for distress

Square Shape

Any square shape flown for attention


Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

Arm Signal

Raise and lower outstretched arms repeatedly

Dye Marker

Attracts attention especially from the air as it colours the water orange

Waterproof Flashlight

Flash SOS repeatedly

Hight Intensity White Light

Flash 50 to 70 times per minute

Sound Signaling Device

Continuous sounding of horn, or explosive signal once per minute

Distress Cloth

Fly from the mast or spread on deck to attract attention

Flames on Deck

At any time, flames on deck indicate a vessel in distress

VHF Radio

Operators must be licensed to use a VHF radio. As of 1999 Station Licences are no longer needed for VHF radios on board pleasure craft.

Mayday, repeated three times, is the International Radio Distress Call. Be prepared to give your location, boat description, number of people on board and the nature of the emergency.

Cellular telephones and CB Radios can also be used. Search and Rescue craft can home in on a VHF signal.

Caution: Under the Criminal Code of Canada it is an offense to send a false emergency message.

Next Page: 5.3 Emergency Preparedness and Response