Transport Canada has announced that a two-color electronic visual distress signal for boaters of pleasure vessels can be used in place of marine flares and meets the legal requirement for distress signals. When carried with an approved smoke signal, Transport Canada has recognized that an electronic visual distress signal device (eVDSD) can be carried instead of approved rocket parachute flares, multi-star flares, and hand flares. Foreign boats in Canada are required to meet the requirements of their own country, so U.S. pleasure craft may carry the single-color version of the electronic distress signal as an alternative to flares, so long as they also carry the required SOS day flag.

Per Transport Canada, an Electronic Signal that meets the standard for Canadians will have:

  • Signal characteristic in the form of a 2-color cyan (blue) and red-orange SOS light sequence
  • Near-infrared signal so it can be detected with night vision goggles
  • An average effective intensity of at least 50 candela
  • At least 2 hours continuous operating life
  • An operating temperature range of -1C to +30C and a storage temperature range of -20C to +55C

Boaters still have the option of using pyrotechnic distress flares, but the Electronic Visual Distress Signal has beneficial advantages.

Advantages of Electronic Visual Distress Signals

  • The device never expires
  • One-time purchase
  • Uses recyclable alkaline batteries
  • Safe to use
  • Requires little training to use

Disadvantages of Pyrotechnic Distress Flares

  • Must be replaced every four years
  • Costs $50 – $100 each
  • Requires some training or know-how
  • Unsafe to use – may cause fire onboard
  • Flares burn at a very high temperature
  • Can blind or choke the user
  • Millions of flares expire every year and must be destroyed

Disposal and Environmental Issues with Flares

  • Marine flares contain chemicals that affect thyroid functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Improper disposal of flares allows chemicals to escape into the environment
  • Safe flare disposal is by high-temperature incineration
  • Very few disposal incinerators for flares are available

The principal company manufacturing electronic distress signals is Weems & Plath, which carries the Sirius Signal Device. Electronic Distress Signals can be purchased at marine supply stores in both the U.S. and Canada and also at Cabela’s sporting goods stores. The 2-color Electronic Distress Signal is also available through Amazon.

Image of 2-color Electronic Distress Signal

When purchasing an eVDSD, the device must document that it is an accredited product, stating that it has been tested and meets requirements – labeled with “complies with RTCM Standard 13200.0 for an eVDSD.” If a device doesn’t include this statement, it can’t be used as an alternative to distress pyrotechnic flares.