Electronic Visual Distress Signals

Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) are hand-held non-pyrotechnic devices that are being offered as alternatives to pyrotechnic flares.

Pyrotechnic flares are one of a number of methods specified in COLREG Annex IV that can be used or exhibited either together or separately to indicate distress and need of assistance. Many boaters now buy EVDS as an alternative to hand held pyrotechnic flares because of cost, safety and ease of testing and disposal.

EVDS produce a light pattern that is different to the intense burn of a conventional flare; there is some concern that this might not be recognised as a distress alert. EVDS are not listed as a distress alerting device in COLREG and EVDS should not be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares if the intention is to use them as the primary means of signalling distress.

For some pleasure vessel owners the carriage of pyrotechnic flares remains mandatory but for those boat owners who are free to choose, and who opt not to carry pyrotechnic flares, then an alerting device listed in COLREG such as EPIRB (ideally with GPS and a homing device) or VHF DSC set (correctly connected to the GPS) which is suitable for the intended area of operation together with some form of EVDS for location in the final mile may be a suitable combination.

However, commercial and recreational vessels of any size may opt to carry EVDS in addition to pyrotechnic flares for use as locating devices particularly for the ‘final mile’.

Clearly boaters are also free to carry pyrotechnic flares if they wish and are willing accept that disposal might well be an issue.

International research

Work has begun internationally to research the effectiveness of EVDS. The US Coastguard has commissioned a study which is supported by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The aim is to work towards recognition of these devices. To do this, EVDS need to be accepted as fit for purpose by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

A change to Annex IV of the Collision Regulations will also be required to give EVDS full recognition as distress signals.

The RYA is supportive of the development of alternatives to hand held pyrotechnic flares and of the work towards these devices gaining recognition within COLREG, but recognises that this will take some time.