The international visual distress signal for help at sea is the use of orange smoke. When a person on a vessel is in distress and requires assistance, they can ignite an orange smoke flare, which produces dense orange smoke that is highly visible during daylight hours. Mariners and search and rescue teams widely recognize this signal as indicating that someone requires help.
But what are the Main Distress Signals at Sea? It's necessary to note that there are also other distress signals and equipment used at sea, visual, such as distress flags, signal mirrors, and pyrotechnic distress signals (such as red parachute flares and orange handheld smoke signals), which are used in different situations and conditions to signal distress and request assistance. Mariners should be familiar with the proper use of these signals and equipment and follow international regulations and guidelines for distress signalling. During the day, an orange smoke signal is used, but it is more appropriate to use it in some additionally dangerous situations.
The Regulations for the Safety of Navigation and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea precisely prescribe the signals of danger and the need for assistance. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, all these regulations apply to all vessels, so everything mentioned is not universally applicable.
For example, firing firearms or other explosive signals at one-minute intervals and lighting fires in barrels do not apply to smaller vessels.Smaller vessels are not equipped for some standards of calling for help, such as signal reflectors or a square flag with a ball or a ball-like object above or below it. Smaller vessels are rarely equipped with an Inmarsat communication device or a radar transponder, for example, and these are not suitable for this type of call for help anyway. Even if they are equipped with rockets, handheld flares, or sparklers that emit red stars one after another at short intervals, those are nighttime signals that are not very visible during the day.
If you have a marine VHF radio on board, use it to call for help. Tune the radio to channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency. Speak clearly and calmly, giving your vessel's name, location, emergency nature, and number of people on board. Wait for a response and provide any additional information requested.
If you assess that you are potentially in danger and need urgent assistance, send a distress call via VHF radio on channel 16,
following the prescribed protocol, with "PAN-PAN."
The surrounding vessels may not hear you because, according to the existing Regulations on Boats, Dinghies, and Yachts, boats for personal use do not need to have a VHF radio if they are not registered for navigation regions I and II.
However, the coastal radio station will surely hear you and organize assistance based on the situation assessment.
However, if the situation does not pose a significant danger, you can call for help less alarmingly. The International Signal Code for a distress signal involves hoisting the N flag above the C flag.
Sound signals are one of the most basic ways to call for help. Blow a whistle, sound a horn, or bang on a metal object to create a rhythmic pattern of sounds. In Morse code, the international distress signal is three short blasts followed by three long blasts and then three short blasts (SOS). Repeating this pattern signals that you are in distress.
Waving to another vessel when passing near each other at a safe distance is not uncommon, and it is often practiced. It's not just out of courtesy but also a sign that you looked out for each other while passing by and are now greeting each other.
So, if you have an even smaller boat not equipped with flares or distress flags, you can still use this method to call for help in an emergency at sea. You do so by repeatedly raising and lowering outstretched arms. On land, this is done with raised and slightly spread hands so that they, together with the body, resemble the letter Y. Both of these signs are clear enough if visible, so moving away from the cabin or climbing onto it is advisable. Never wave your hands above your head; it can be misinterpreted as a greeting. To attract additional attention, it is an excellent idea to sound a continuous horn, whistle, or any device for signalling in fog.
Waving your arms or other objects is indeed a simple but effective way to signal for help when you're in distress on the water. Waving can catch the attention of passing boats, ships, or aircraft and alert them to your situation. Here's how to effectively use waving as a distress signal:
The rule, tradition, and hallmark of good seamanship is to aid anyone who requests it in your vicinity. After all, this is also a legal obligation stipulated by the Maritime Code in Article 764, where paragraph 1 includes "...and enemies in the event of armed conflict..." and paragraph 4 emphasizes "...he is obliged to rescue persons who are in mortal danger even if they object..."
Remember that the effectiveness of waving as a distress signal depends on the visibility of your location, the presence of nearby vessels or aircraft, and the time of day to increase your chances of getting help in an emergency at sea.