Boating Distress Equipment

Getting help on the water is important; having the proper equipment to signal distress is even more important should a boating emergency arise.

Flares and watertight flashlights are types of distress equipment required on some boats.


  • Flares are used to signal distress and need for help.
  • Depending on the size of and type of boat and where you are boating you may be required to carry certain types of flares. For example if you are boating in any ocean or on a body of water where you may be 1.5 km from shore you are required to carry flares. However, boaters operating on a river or lake, which at no time your boat can be more than 1 nautical mile from shore, are not required to carry flares.
  • Flares should be stored in a watertight container and located in a cool, dry area, and easily accessible in case of emergency.
  • Flares are valid for four years, make sure to check the manufacture's date and read the manufacture's instruction before using a flare.
  • Flares must be approved by Transport Canada.
  • It is illegal to test or discharge a flare if it is not being used in an emergency situation.
  • To dispose of outdated flares, you should contact your local law enforcement agency or fire department for proper disposal procedures.
  • There are four types of approved flares in Canada.

Types of Approved Flares:

  1. Type A - Parachute flare: easily seen from water, land and air. Must emit a red light.
  2. Type B - Multi-star flare: easily seen from water, land and air. Must emit a red light.
  3. Type C - Hand-held flare: not as easily see from afar but effective for marking your position. Must emit a red light.
  4. Type D: Smoke flare: Highly visible during daylight hours. Must emit orange smoke.

Watertight flashlight:

Most vessels are required to carry at least one watertight flashlight on their boat at all times. In an emergency, a flashlight can be used as an illuminating device or to send a distress signal. Make sure your flashlight has working batteries.

Using a flashlight you can signal your need for help by flashing SOS. SOS is signaled by three short flashes, then three long flashes, followed by three short flashes.

Boaters should refer to the Official BOATsmart!® Canada Study for complete details regarding specific requirements for different sized boats.

Distress equipment: approved flares

Distress equipment: watertight flashlight