Marine Safety – radios, flares, phones & signals


There are many recognized distress signals you can use when you need assistance at sea. If help is nearby you can call for assistance by slowly raising and lowering your outstretched arms, continuously sounding the horn or another sound signaling device. Showing a V sheet or sounding or flashing SOS, three short, three long, three short with a torch.

The most effective signal is “Mayday” on channel 16 on your VHF radio, which will attract help from other boats nearby and from shore stations, maritime radio or Coastguard. Set off the appropriate hand-held distressed flare and activate your 406 locator beacon.

A mobile phone can be used but don’t rely solely  on mobile phones, they are often out of range, batteries can go flat and you will be talking to just one person. Always use in the bag, call 111, you can use the phone while still in the bag without reducing its signal strength. Hand held distress flares are a visual way of raising the alarm and pinpointing your position to rescuers, when they are within the sight of the signal being used. Maritime New Zealand recommend that all pleasure boats should carry visual distress flares as well as a waterproof hand held VHF radio. Orange flares are for daytime use only. This one emits a cloud of vivid expanding smoke which is visible for up to 60 seconds at more than two miles at sea level and further from aircraft. Red hand flares pinpoint your position to rescuers at night. A red flare emits a brilliant light for 60 seconds. It can be used in daylight as well. Parachute red rockets are for longer-range signaling at night, this parachute flare emits a red star which burns for 40 seconds that could be seen up to 40 miles away at night and 8 miles away in daylight. Flares are dangerous and burn it up to 2000 C. It is important that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the correct flare has been selected. Before firing a hand-held flare, check that the rescuers are in your line of sight.

This orange flare has raised on the cabs so you can identified in the dark. This red flare has raised plus on the top for the same reason. To light this flare you hold it safely at the base, twist off the top cap, hold the handle with the signal up and away from you, firmly pull off the yellow knob on the top of the flare. Up and out of it in a smooth steady motion. Hold the lighted signal up high, outboard and on the leeward side of the boat. Dispose off the used signal, which will be very hot by putting it in water. A striker cap may light other models. Know what type of flares you have and read the instructions periodically, so you are prepared for emergencies. Ensure your distress flares are in good order and up-to-date. Check the expiry date and replace every three years. Always store them in a waterproof container which is readily accessible in an emergency.

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