For boats under sixteen feet you are required to carry 3 day and 3 night flares or 3 combination day / night flares. For boats sixteen feet and larger you are required to carry 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. All Coast Guard approved flares and pyrotechnic signaling devices are stamped with an expiration date. If your flares are expired or will expire during the boating season they will need to be replaced! While 3 day / 3 night flares are the minimum it is suggested and prudent to carry more. After a few years of boating this can add up to a significant cost.
Weems & Plath a leader in manufacturing technical and navigational instruments has developed an electronic alternative to pyrotechnic flares and signaling devices that is US Coast Guard approved, easily activated, eliminates risk of accidental burns and fires and can be attached to the boat and left unattended while you work to fix what ever problems the boat is having or assist you passengers. The SOS Distress Light is waterproof, has a floatation ring to keep the strobe light above the water, runs for 60 hours on 3 C cell batteries, and can be seen for up to 10 nautical miles. The best part is you don’t have to pay to replace expired flares year after year. The only ongoing cost associated with the SOS Distress Light is replacing the batteries yearly or as needed and carrying an spare set of batteries on the boat. The light comes with an orange SOS distress flag for day time use to meet requirements for day time signaling.
Some interesting features of the SOS Distress light are it comes with a lanyard that can be hoisted up a mast or tied to a railing, the handle fits perfectly into a standard rod holder, it works in all weather conditions, it’s so simple to operate even an untrained passenger can turn it on and it floats and keeps flashing even in the water unlike a flare that may not fire after an extended time in the water.
I bought one of these as soon as they came out and were Coast Guard approved. I kept my expired flares on the boat but marked them as “training use only” in order to avoid issues with the Coast Guard safety inspections. It’s never a bad idea to have a back up when it comes to your life or someone else’s. I’m pretty happy with the construction of the light and operation of the light. The only thing I would like to see is a mount sold for it. It takes up about the same amount of space as a small flare kit but it is an awkward shape and doesn’t lay flat or fit into an emergency bag easily. Since it fits into a rod holder you can repurpose a rod holder to store it. This makes a great addition to your Coast Guard approved safety kit.