Visual Distress Signals (VDS)

 

The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval. Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted or Recognized Independent Laboratory.

Please send the Submittal Package and other related information to TypeApproval@uscg.mil.  Please see What to submit when corresponding with ENG-4 regarding equipment approvals/renewal.  For files sizes above 10MB and less than 8GB you may submit correspondence via the ARL Secure Access File Exchange (SAFE) at https://safe.arl.army.mil/

Once the equipment has been approved by this office, it will receive Coast Guard Type Approval and a Certificate of Approval (COA). The COA will be issued for 5 years and will remain valid during that time period if the product meets the testing of the Quality Control Program.

For a complete listing of USCG Type Approved Equipment, please visit the Coast Guard Marine Information Exchange (CGMIX).

 

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.021

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  The flare burns with an intensity of at least 500 candela (formerly "candlepower") for at least 2 minutes.  Brighter flares with shorter burning times can also be approved if they total at least 1000 candela-minutes and burn for at least 50 seconds.  For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 100 signals from which samples are taken.  Approval standards for these flares are found in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 160.021.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  The testing must be performed on the product by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.021.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.028

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  For approval, the manufacturer must provide 3 signal pistols to the USCG accepted laboratory for testing.  The testing must be performed on the product by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.028.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.036

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  The flare burns with an intensity of at least 20,000 candela (formerly "candlepower"), for at least 30 seconds, reaching an altitude of at least 150 meters (500 ft).  Approval standards for these flares are found in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 160.036.   For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 100 signals from which samples are taken.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.036.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY: 160.066

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  The flare burns with an intensity of at least 10,000 candela (formerly "candlepower"), for at least 5.5 seconds, reaching an altitude high enough to make sure it burns out before it falls back to the surface.  The signals specified by this part are either self-contained or pistol launched and either meteor or parachute assisted type.  Pistol projected flares must be designed to be fired by a signal pistol approved under 46 CFR 160.028.  For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 100 signals from which samples are taken.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.066.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY: 160.121

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  Hand-held flare with a red flame.  The flare burns with an intensity of at least 15,000 candela (formerly "candlepower") for at least 50 seconds.  Is approved under SOLAS Life Saving Appliance Code (MSC. 48(66)) Section 3.2 and the Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances (MSC.81(70)) Part 1 Section 4.  All requirements from the SOLAS regulations and any additional USCG requirements have been consolidated into the USCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS pyrotechnic Devices.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic and international service.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS Pyrotechnic Devices

APPROVAL CATEGORY: 160.136

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  Parachute flare with a red flame.  The flare burns with an intensity of at least 30,000 candela (formerly "candlepower"), for at least 40 seconds, reaching an altitude of at least 300 meters (1000 ft).  For approval, see SOLAS Life Saving Appliance Code (MSC. 48(66)) Section 3.1 and the Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances (MSC.81(70)) Part 1 Section 4.  All requirements from the SOLAS regulations and any additional USCG requirements have been consolidated into the USCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS pyrotechnic Devices.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic and international service.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS Pyrotechnic Devices

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.022

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  Floating "can" producing orange smoke.  The signal produces dense orange smoke for about 5 minutes (4 minutes absolute minimum).  Approval standards for these flares are found in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 160.022.  For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 100 signals from which samples are taken.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  The testing must be performed on the product by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.   SOLAS requirements from the LSA Codes Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances Section 4.8 are deemed equivalent based on similar 3 minute density testing.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.
Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.022.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.037

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  Hand-held signal producing orange smoke.  The signal produces dense orange smoke for at least 50 seconds.  Approval standards for these flares are found in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 160.037.  For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 100 signals from which samples are taken.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.037.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.057

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  Floating "can" producing orange smoke.  The signal produces dense orange smoke for at least 15 minutes. It is designed to be attached to a ring lifebuoy on or near the bridge of a commercial vessel.  If someone falls overboard from the vessel, the crew drops the ring lifebuoy to the water, which pulls the smoke signal from its bracket. This action ignites the smoke signal.  The smoke helps the person in the water locate the ring lifebuoy, and it provides a reference for maneuvering the vessel. (The ring lifebuoy is also equipped with a floating electric waterlight for night use.)

They can be also be used to meet regulations for daytime visual distress signals on recreational boats.  For approval testing, the manufacturer must produce a lot of at least 20 signals from which samples are taken.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic service only.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of Domestic Pyrotechnic Devices

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • A test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with the applicable standard.

Each Accepted Independent Laboratory maintains its own individual test report forms which provide this office with the required information of 160.057.

  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.
  • Required drawings/plans of the equipment.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.122

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  The signal produces dense orange smoke for at least 3 minutes.  For approval, see SOLAS Life Saving Appliance Code (MSC. 48(66)) Section 3.3 and the Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances (MSC.81(70)) Part 1 Section 4.  All requirements from the SOLAS regulations and any additional USCG requirements have been consolidated into the USCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS pyrotechnic Devices.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic and international service.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS Pyrotechnic Devices

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.157

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  The signal produces dense orange smoke for at least 15 minutes. It is designed to be attached to a ring lifebuoy on or near the bridge of a commercial vessel. If someone falls overboard from the vessel, the crew drops the ring lifebuoy to the water, which pulls the smoke signal from its bracket. This action ignites the smoke signal.  The smoke helps the person in the water locate the ring lifebuoy, and it provides a reference for maneuvering the vessel. (The ring lifebuoy is also equipped with a floating electric waterlight for night use.)  They can be also be used to meet regulations for daytime visual distress signals on recreational boats.

For approval, see SOLAS Life Saving Appliance Code (MSC. 48(66)) Section 2.1.3 and the Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances (MSC.81(70)) Part 1 Section 1.9.  All requirements from the SOLAS regulations and any additional USCG requirements have been consolidated into the USCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS pyrotechnic Devices.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.  Production inspections and an annual report must also be completed by the accepted lab and provided to the USCG on an annual basis.  This approval category is for domestic and international service.

LINKSUSCG Guidelines for Approval of SOLAS Pyrotechnic Devices

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.072

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  An orange flag with black square above a black circle.  The flag is at least 90 cm x 90 cm (3 ft x 3 ft), with grommets at each corner to allow it to be hung or flown. Other arrangements have also been accepted in kite or balloon form, but all have the orange and black square and circle form.  The material is tested for weathering resistance and durability. The square and circle form is intended to simulate a cylinder-over-sphere dayshape, indicating distress.  Distress flags are self-certified by the manufacturer. The Coast Guard does not issue approvals or keep an authenticated list of manufacturers. 

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  While not approved by the Coast Guard, this office maintains a list of Self-certified Distress Flag manufactures.

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  161.013

Manufacturers Certification for acceptance in accordance with 46 CFR 161.013

MANUFACTURER’S CERTIFICATION ACCEPTANCE SERIES:  161.013

MANUFACTURER’S GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  This is an alternative to flares as a nighttime distress signal for recreational boats.  It is required to be laboratory tested to meet specifications including an automatic flash sequence for S-O-S, light intensity/direction, and battery power duration.  Electric S-O-S distress lights are self-certified by the manufacturer. The Coast Guard does not issue approval certificates or keep an authenticated list of manufacturers. While not approved by the Coast Guard, this office maintains a list of known devices which may be found in the CGMIX equipment list.  Approval standards for these lights are found in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 161.013.

As a manufacturer certified device, prior to manufacturer distribution for sale, this office reviews the manufacturer’s plans and performance evaluations for compliance to the applicable requirements. 

In 2018 a new standard was developed by the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services (RTCM) for an SOS electronic visual distress signal device (eVDSD).  The RTCM SC13200.0 standard for eVDSDs was determined to be acceptable for use by CG-ENG Policy Letter 03-18, dated December 21,2018 (see the following CG-ENG Policy Letter 03-18)

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A letter requesting Coast Guard review to 46 CFR 16.013 or CG-ENG Policy Letter 03-18 for the equipment.
  • A test report from the Independent Laboratory showing compliance of the product or equipment with all design and performance specifications for the applicable standard.
  • Evidence that the manufacturer has a suitable quality assurance production follow-up factory inspection program.
  • Required drawings/plans including labeling and operator instructions for the equipment.

The following link provides a table which indicates the appropriate distress signal for each vessel use/type. Limited uses for certain signals are described within the table.

TABLE - Visual Distress Signal Requirements for Vessels