Distress equipment such as pyrotechnic flares must be carried on all seagoing and most non-seagoing commercial vessels as well as all pleasure vessels of 13.7 meters in length and over. They are to be used in an emergency to signal that a vessel is in distress and that it needs immediate assistance.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is aware of the development and marketing of hand-held non-pyrotechnic devices or Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) that are being offered as alternatives to pyrotechnic flares.
Geoff Matthews spokesperson for the MCA, said, "The MCA notes the likely benefits of EVDS such as cost, safety and ease of disposal. However, from a practical perspective the signal produced by these devices is different to that produced by a hand-held pyrotechnic flare. We are concerned that electronic visual distress signals may not be recognized as such, with potentially fatal consequences.’’
He continued, "Therefore our advice is that EVDS, for the time being, should not be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares. However, commercial and recreational vessels of all sizes may carry EVDS in addition to pyrotechnic flares and use them as locating devices. Their limitations should be recognized though and all parties involved made aware of the type of signal being generated.”
Work has begun internationally to research the effectiveness of EVDS. For example, the U.S. Coastguard has commissioned a study which the MCA is positively supporting by monitoring and contributing views. 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 Organization. A change to Annex IV of the Collision Regulations will also be required to give EVDS full recognition as distress signals. The MCA will provide updates from time to time as this work progresses.