Flares and Distress Signals
The visual distress signal requirement for recreational boaters states that all boats when used on coastal waters, including the Great Lakes, the territorial seas and those waters directly connected to the Great Lakes and the territorial seas, up to a point where the waters are less than two miles wide, and boats owned in the United States when operating on the high seas must be equipped with visual distress signals. There are a handful of exceptions so you should always check your state regulations to be certain you comply.
Regardless of exemptions, all boaters should be able to signal for help. Boaters must have current dated US Coast Guard-approved day and night signals for all boats operating on coastal and open bodies of water. Federal requirements are as follows:
For boats under 16' in length: Distress signals are only required when operating between sunset and sunrise. If operating at night, one electric distress light or three combination day/night red flares are required.
For boats 16' in length or greater: One orange distress flag and one electric distress light - or - three hand-held or floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light - or - three combination day/night red flares; hand-held, meteor or parachute type.