Responsible boaters know to always carry flares aboard their vessels, not only to comply with U.S. Coast Guard regulations, but also to signal for help in the event of an emergency. However, traditional flares are no longer the only option boaters have for distress signals.
Eleven years ago, the Coast Guard began discussing new distress signals, options that would make it possible to eliminate the use of pyrotechnic flares by recreational boaters. In response, Sirius Signal developed a white eVDSD distress light, the C-1003, as a battery-powered alternative. The company now follows that product with the new C-1002.
The C-1002 is a two-colored light that meets the USCG’s daytime and nighttime visual distress signal requirements and flashes the SOS signal. It features 13 LEDs in red-orange and cyan, and at the center of the LEDs is an infrared light, which makes it easy to detect with night-vision goggles, as well as against a white background. “It’s a very serious piece of engineering,” says Anthony Covelli, CEO of Sirius Signal. “It’s so sophisticated in its timing sequence that the Coast Guard reportedly has satellites above that can detect this signal anywhere on the planet.”
The device is powered by eight CR123 lithium batteries that have a life expectancy of 10 years. The first set is included with the device, and replacements can be purchased in any store. The light is activated by a mechanical switch, much like the circuit breaker in your home, eliminating the need for wires, which have the propensity to fail.
This distress light is not only safer than traditional flares, as it eliminates the associated fire hazard, but it has better longevity as well. The Sirius Signal C-1002 eVDSD is designed to be serviced, and according to the company, it should be a lifetime product. And while the C-1002 is not brigher than traditional flares, it can be flashed continuously for hours, whereas flares only emit a signal for approximately a minute. Plus, since there is no risk of fire, it can be displayed straight into the air for better
visibility. Flares, by comparison, must be held away from the boat, blocking the light by at least 180 degrees.
Equally important are the environmental benefits. Flares are considered explosives, and it is difficult to discard them legally as there are very few established recycling programs. Out of 52 counties in California, for example, only two have ongoing programs. The Coast Guard estimated in 2014 that 170,000 flares expire each year in
California alone, and in Florida, that number is closer to 300,000.
Without an easy way to dispose of these expired flares, many boaters simply throw them in the trash, which is dangerous and an environmental hazard, as they contain chemicals that are toxic to humans. One of those is perchlorate, which in high doses can interfere with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland, disrupting the functions of the thyroid and placing pregnant women and their fetuses at greatest risk. According to Sirius Signal, there is enough perchlorate in a single flare to contaminate 170,000 gallons of water if it goes into a landfill.
A boat owner can activate a C-1002 light with a phone via Bluetooth (although it isn’t necessary). You can also check the unit’s battery life. This connectivity also made it possible for the company to design a smartphone app that’s included with the purchase of any device. One of the key functions of the Sirius Signal Alert & Notification App is that it enables a user to file a digital float plan, which can be sent to five contacts along with a personalized message. It’s a simpler and more convenient process than the one currently offered by the Coast Guard. (Its float plan procedure requires downloading and printing a two-page form, filling it out by hand and faxing it to contacts.)
Once the user presses “Start Trip,” the app automatically sends his launch point and time (along with expected return time) to the five contacts. The app then uses the phone’s GPS to record the boat’s location every 10 minutes. That information is stored in the Cloud to makes it easier for the Coast Guard to find the boat in the event of an emergency. If the user does not end his trip by the estimated arrival time, the app will automatically notify the contacts.
Sirius Signal imagines a safer future for boat owners. “We say never buy flares again, and we mean it,” says Covelli. “The Coast Guard understands that flares are not safe and are environmental hazards. This is the future. It’s now.”
This article was originally published in the July 2021 issue.