Safety lesson: Make sure you're seen


Alan Ryden, a commercial fisherman who survived 10 hours in the water, says a strobe light saved his life. Recreational angler Robert Clark says a lack of signaling equipment almost cost him his life after his boat capsized.

Electronic devices such as VHF radios, PLBs and EPIRBs are important components of your safety arsenal, but be sure you also have access to some lower-tech signaling devices. Go through the safety checklist below to be sure you are ready to be seen, whether you're in the water or with the boat.

Yellow PFDs are more easily spotted in dim light.

  • Pick the right color life jacket. The best color for daytime visibility is international orange, according to the Coast Guard, while yellow stands out in dim light. Reflective tape or patches help increase your chances of being seen. And don't forget to carry a strobe, signal mirror and/or whistle on your life jacket.
  • A small mirror can be aimed to reflect light at vessels or aircraft, and can be seen for miles. You can also use a waterproof flashlight for nighttime signalling.
  • Signal SOS by any method, or purchase a lantern that automatically flashes the Morse code for SOS (. . .- - -. . .).
  • Continuously sound a noise-making device, such as a whistle or air horn. Some whistles are audible from a mile away, and can easily be carried on your life jacket.
  • The batteries in a strobe should be rated for at least 24 hours.
  • Display an orange flag with a black ball and square (for identification from the air).
  • Carry red parachute, meteor or hand-held flares, though some flares are virtually invisible in daylight. Spend the extra money for SOLAS flares.
  • A dye marker (any color) will help announce your location.
  • Orange smoke signals (in daylight).

RELATED STORY: Signaling for Help on the Water