Electronic distress signals instead of (some) flares: a fresh option for recreational boaters

An eVDSD, such as the Sirius Signal C-1002, can now be carried in Canada as partial fulfilment of signalling requirements on pleasure craft.

Boaters getting back on the water in Canada this spring have a significant new option in mandatory safety equipment. Transport Canada last November approved the use of electronic visual distress signals (called eVDSD’s for short) in place of some traditional pyrotechnic signals for recreational craft only. The new policy will be in effect for five years, and reviewed at that point.

Having an electronic signal device will overcome an assortment of pains (and expense) in maintaining the required stock of flares for whatever length of vessel you have, and disposing of expired ones. But this does not mean you can get rid of all your flares. You will still need to carry smoke flares for daytime signalling. Transport Canada needs to update its online information to make the new carrying requirements much clearer, where eVDSDs are concerned. At the moment, on my boat of between 6 and 9 meters in length I’m required to carry six flares, “only two” of which can be smoke (the old type D). If I were to opt for an eVDSD, would I have to carry at least two smoke flares as well? At the moment, the pdf download of the Safe Boating Guide at Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety carries a copyright date of 2019, and so isn’t of any use answering the question.

The eVDSD must have documentation from an accredited product certification body, or the United States Coast Guard (USCG), stating that it has been tested to and meets the requirements of the RTCM standard 13200.0. Devices must be labelled with the statement, “Complies with RTCM Standard 13200.0 for an eVDSD”. The instruction label and any printed instructions and manual, must be in both French and English.

Canadian boaters can continue to carry traditional signals and flares, and a lot of them probably will. As these units are not cheap—a Sirius Signal C-1002 will set you back about $400 in Canada—I’m not imagining boaters stampeding to get rid of only some of their flares. And don’t try to cut corners by buying a simpler, one-colour model online. The Canadian approval for the 13200.0 standard specifies a two-colour signal that includes a near-infrared component. All that said, not having to buy and replace flares every four years, and the effectiveness of these devices, suggests a more widespread adoption will happen.

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