Christening Ships with Champagne: A Brief History (and a Few Key Tips)

December 28, 2020

National Champagne Day takes place on December 31st in the U.S.—just in time for New Year’s Eve. While sparkling wines exist in various forms around the world, true champagne comes from the Champagne region of France and has been a popular drink among the aristocracy since the 17th century.

Launching a new ship with a ceremonial beverage has a long history among seafarers. Some of the first ships built in America, such as the USS Constitution, were christened with wine or whiskey, but eventually champagne became the beverage of choice. The USS Maine was christened by the Secretary of the Navy’s granddaughter in 1890.

According to the BBC, the first royal to christen a ship with champagne was Queen Victoria in 1891, who broke a bottle of champagne against the HMS Royal Arthur. Tradition has it that if the bottle doesn’t break, it’s bad luck for the voyage.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take any chances: the experts recommend scoring the bottle beforehand to make sure it breaks. Another tip is to choose a champagne with plenty of bubbles and give it a shake to increase the pressure.

You can also purchase a specially made bottle from Galleyware, which comes scored and wrapped to ensure that no one gets hurt.

Before christening your vessel, don’t forget to choose a name for your boat and make a plan for your maiden voyage. Be sure to browse the nautical charts at OceanGrafix so you can navigate safely and commemorate the occasion!




Get to Know Galveston Bay

December 15, 2020

Galveston Bay is located on the Gulf of Mexico in the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area. Although it’s relatively shallow – it has an average depth of 6 feet – parts of it have been dredged to provide easy access to the Port of Houston. It contains a mix of fresh water and seawater, making it a biodiverse environment that’s also one of the country’s top seafood producers.

Galveston is often associated with the deadly hurricane of 1900, but has rebounded and become a popular tourist destination—with over 7 million visitors per year. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking of going sailing in Galveston Bay.

Sharing the Bay

The Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee says that Galveston Bay is one of the “most heavily utilized recreational boating areas in the entire country.” This means you’ll be sharing the water with commercial vessels, as well as recreational boaters of various experience levels.

Boaters should take care to use the Barge Lanes of the Houston Shipping Channel and be familiar with communication signals. Popular spots include Galveston Harbor, Cedar Bayou, Double Bayou, and Dickinson Bayou.

What to Do in Galveston

When you’re not out on the water, Galveston offers plenty of other attractions, including the Strand History District, Moody Gardens, and the Pleasure Pier. Keep in mind that all attractions may not currently be open, but there’s always the beach!

A little further away is NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which contains a museum and a visitor’s center, and is only a half-hour drive from Galveston.

How to Get Started

Galveston makes it easy for new boaters to get out onto the water. If you don’t have a boat and aren’t ready to buy one, SailTime lets you pay a monthly fee and gain access to a boat for the season. You can also attend one of the sailing schools offered by the ASA (American Sailing Association) or join the Clear Lake Racing group for a Wednesday Night Race. Sailboat and yacht charters are also available.

Choose the Right Time of Year

Visit during the shoulder season (October to November or March to April) to avoid the winter chill and the summer crowds. Galveston celebrates Oktoberfest in October and Mardi Gras in February and hosts a Charles Dickens festival in December.

You can learn more about Galveston on the city’s official website. Be sure to purchase the latest nautical charts to help you navigate the bay!




Boating Sales Are Increasing During the Pandemic, But There’s A Downside

December 9, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put a stop to some popular recreational activities, there’s one industry that’s seeing a surge in interest: boating.

According to CBS 12 in Lake Park, Florida, “Boat sales are currently at an all-time high, while inventory is low.” The National Marine Manufacturers Association says that used boat sales are up by 74%, and 70% of dealers say their sales have increased.

Why Boat Sales Are Booming

The main reason that boat sales are booming is because it’s seen as a relatively safe, socially distanced activity for households and families. Instead of getting on a plane or going to a crowded beach, recreational boaters can escape the crowds and get some fresh air at sea – and maybe even find a remote island all to themselves.

In fact, interest is so high that dealers are running out of new boats to sell – and many popular destinations have reported a rise in demand for moorings.

The Hidden Dangers of Booming Boat Sales

Although an increased interest in boating may be good for the industry, there are some downsides to consider as well.

The director of the International Yacht Brokers Association says that “half of recent boat buyers are first-timers,” while the MarineMax dealership says that “nearly three quarters of queries online are from first-time boat buyers.” This means that more new boaters are heading out onto the water with little experience, and with less opportunity for in-person training or safety inspections.

Plus, with less inventory to choose from, buyers aren’t even waiting for the right boat for them – they’re buying whatever happens to be available, whether it’s a pontoon boat, a fishing boat, or a yacht. In many cases, they’re making the purchase online and aren’t able to see the boat in person to make sure that it’s in good working order.

How to Stay Safe on the Water

At OceanGrafix, we’re all about helping new boaters find their sea legs, but we want to make sure that safety comes first. As one marine publication puts it, “We must connect the missing links between boat sales and boating education.”

New boaters should be prepared for crowded marinas and boat ramps and should take time to practice navigating their craft on less popular waterways. They can also look for online boating classes or socially distanced in-person classes in their area.

The U.S. Coast Guard is offering Virtual Vessel Safety Checks, a remote version of their in-person safety checks that can be performed online during the pandemic.

And of course, all boaters should double-check their emergency distress signals and make sure they have the latest nautical charts for their region. Even if a vessel is equipped with GPS, boaters should carry paper charts as a back-up.

It’s tempting to jump right in to a new activity, but new boaters who don’t take the time to learn the basics may find themselves losing interest and regretting their investment.

With a little preparation, it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors while learning a new skill and keeping yourself safe during the pandemic.




Celebrating World Jellyfish Day: Tips and Trivia for Boaters

October 29, 2020

November 3rd, 2020, marks the 650 millionth celebration of World Jellyfish Day. Well, we’re not sure if they’ve been celebrating all this time, but that’s how long jellyfish are believed to have been present in the world’s oceans.

Unlike species that prefer to stay near the surface or the seafloor, jellyfish travel up and down the entire water column to feed on plankton. Jellyfish are invertebrates – and they aren’t technically fish – with no brain or central nervous system.

In certain environmental conditions, jellyfish gather in large groups called blooms, which can have significant effects on other aquatic life and even humans. In 2013, a Swedish nuclear power plant had to shut down because jellyfish clogged the cooling system!

Although only some jellyfish are harmful to humans, it’s important to follow a few basic tips when swimming or boating to avoid getting stung:

  • First, keep an eye out for reports of jellyfish blooms in your region. For example, this calendar shows when jellyfish are forecast to appear on Hawaiian beaches; they usually turn up around a week after the full moon.
  • Next, consider wearing a stinger suit while swimming or snorkeling. These are a must in some parts of the world, such as Australia, but can protect you from the most common types of jellyfish no matter where you are.
  • Finally, carry a jellyfish sting kit on your vessel. You can purchase sprays and creams that deactivate the venom, or use vinegar to clean the affected area. Avoid using ice, freshwater, urine, or baking soda.
  • If you have any trouble breathing or think you may have been stung by a box jellyfish, seek professional medical attention right away.

Jellyfish are some of the most beautiful creatures in the sea, with their strange shapes and colorful bodies. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to celebrate World Jellyfish Day safely – and appreciate them from a distance!




Naming Your Boat: The Complete Guide from Getting Ideas to Making it Official

October 20, 2020

Naming your vessel is a very important part of boat ownership! To help make it easier, we’ll cover the do’s and don’ts for coming up with boat name ideas, details on christening your craft, and what to do if a name change is unavoidable.

Do’s and Don’ts for Naming Your Boat

1. Keep it Short 
From an aesthetic standpoint, you want your boat’s name to easily fit on the transom, so one to two words are best. Beyond the ornamental consideration, a short and understandable name is also a necessity when making an emergency call on your onboard VHS radio. By keeping it short, you’ll make it easy for a responder to catch the name.

2. Follow the Rules 
The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom don’t have any rules or regulations on the naming of recreational boats. However, registration requirements vary by country, so check with your regulatory agency to be sure you are in compliance.

3. Make a Tribute
Is there someone you want to honor with the name of your boat? It could be a real person, a character, or mythical being. A few common tributes include:
  • A sweetheart (just like a tattoo, be careful and certain when you go this route!)
  • A sea creature, mythical or real: Little Mermaid, Calypso, Sea Urchin
  • A special family member 
  • A hero or mentor 
4. Give It a Motto, Personality, or Feeling 
What words do you live by? Is there a certain trait or feeling you want your boat or travels to exude? These are great ways to come up with a name. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Life Motto: Persist, Carpe diem, Silver Lining, Smooth Sailing
  • Personality or Feeling: Discovery, Epic, Serenity, Peace, Perseverance
5. Have Some Fun with It 
A boat name doesn’t have to be serious. Many people like to have a little fun with it. Here are a few ideas for directions to go when brainstorming:
  • Reference your Career or Hobby: Banker’s Hours, Exhibit A, Time Out, Winning Ticket
  • Make a Pun: Seas the Day, Pier Pressure, Aboat Time, Pug Boat
  • Reference Popular Culture: Ariel, Love Boat, Margaritaville, 3-Hour Tour
6. Don’t Challenge the Sea Gods
DO NOT have the audacity to name your boat after the forces of the sea, as in Tempest, Typhoon, or Hurricane.  To do so would be issuing a challenge to nature, likely a no-win situation.

7. Don’t Memorialize a Fallen Vessel 
It’s considered tempting fate to name a boat after a vessel lost to the sea. So, again, don’t challenge the sea gods!

How to Christen Your Boat 

Once you have the perfect name, it is time for pomp and circumstance. The christening ceremony is an important tradition.
Here’s a quick rundown of the events of a christening:
  1. With your boat in the water, gather family and friends aboard.
  2. You will need two or more bottles of champagne or another celebratory beverage.  We suggest one made for christening boats (companies like Galleyware make bottles specifically designed to christen boats) and another for your guests to consume.
  3. Be prepared with a speech. Say a few words to welcome your guests aboard. Share about your vessel, where it came from, the history if it’s an older boat, and where you hope to sail to. Then, end your speech by asking for safe passage.
  4. Once you have completed your speech, pour half a bottle of champagne into the water. This is your offering for safe passage—enjoy the other half of this bottle with your guests after the christening ceremony.
  5. Next you will offer your boat a gift of appreciation for carrying all who voyage with her to safe harbors. Pour or break the bottle across the boat’s bow or another metal fixture on the boat, taking care not to damage the paint.
  6. Next place a green leafy branch in the boat to signify the safe return to land.
  7. Pass the second bottle of celebratory beverage to all gathered and toast the boat by name.
  8. End the celebration by taking your newly named vessel out on its maiden voyage.
Where will you go on your maiden voyage? OceanGrafix has a chart for every journey. Browse now.

When the Name is Not So Sweet: How to Change Your Boat’s Name

Whether a relationship attached to the boat’s name goes bad or the new-to-you boat had a previous owner who delighted in a not-so-family-friendly name (Ship Happens, Breakin’ Wind), sometimes you just have to change the name.

It isn’t a quick fix, but when it’s time for a change, all it will take is a little elbow grease and another ceremony, which must precede the christening.

First, you have to erase the old name from all memory. It will not be enough to paint over the old name, because paint can peel away, and reveal the former identity. It also will not be enough to remove the name from the boat. Remove all instances of the name from life rafts, jackets, and buoys. Scour furniture, equipment, tools, and mechanical parts. Destroy ID tags. White out the name on old ledgers and paperwork.

For the un-naming ceremony, you will need two or more bottles of champagne, a water-soluble marker, and an environmentally friendly tag. Write the old name of the boat in water-soluble ink on the tag.

With your boat in the water, gather family and friends aboard or do this alone—depending on how comfortable you are with performances. Whether you’re alone or surrounded by your favorite fellow boaters, start by offering the boat a gift of appreciation for all of the safe passages of the past, pouring half of the bottle across the boat’s bow. Pass the celebratory beverage to all gathered, and toast the boat by its old name.

Now, it’s time to give into that healthy dose of boater superstition and to appease the gods of the sea. To do this, you’ll want to recite ‘Vigor’s Denaming Ceremony’ or some variation of it. Offer the tags as proof of thankfulness and drop them into the water. To show gratitude, pour the other half of the champagne into the water.

Then, hold the christening ceremony directly after the un-naming ceremony.

Have fun with this, and may you have many happy voyages!

Where will you go on your maiden voyage? OceanGrafix has a chart for every journey. Browse now.




NOAA Turns 50 in October: Here’s How It’s Celebrating

September 28, 2020

NOAA Celebrates 50 Years of Science, Service, and Stewardship

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is turning 50 on October 3, 2020, and has found a few memorable ways to celebrate the occasion.

First, there’s the Oral History 50th Anniversary Series, which contains interviews with key players in the early years of NOAA, such as diving pioneer Dick Rutkowski. You’ll also find a “salute to NOAA’s champions,” honoring the scientists, administrators, and senators who contributed to the agency in various ways.

As both the first physical science agency and the first conservation agency in the U.S., NOAA “was born out of an idea that the ocean and atmosphere are inextricably linked,” says Acting Administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs. Today, it’s involved in weather and climate research, fishery conservation, charting the ocean floor, and more.

We’ve recently highlighted the chart updates coming to Florida that will make boating in the region safer for commercial and recreational boaters for years to come.

You can check out the “Our Birthday Story” video on YouTube to learn more about the agency’s history and its origins in the Weather Warning Office of the 1800s. Or, view the NOAA at 50 story map—a collection of photos, videos, and other media that explores the science, history, and recent accomplishments of the agency.

Since it was founded on October 3, 1970, NOAA has “grown to become a world-class science agency with a reach that extends from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor.” We’re excited to see what it can do in the next 50 years!





Chart Updates Coming to Florida

September 11, 2020

Nautical charts are some of the most important navigational tools that you can have on your boat. Not only do they provide you with a detailed picture of the shoreline, they also contain information on anchorages, water depth, and the sea floor.

Nautical charts can help you determine an efficient route to your destination, as well as where to anchor overnight and which dangers to avoid. But your charts will only be useful if they’re accurate and up to date.

NOAA plans new charts for Florida’s Coast

To improve the quality of nautical charts off the coast of Florida, NOAA has begun work on a project to chart the waters near Apalachicola, a fishing town on the Florida Panhandle. This part of the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t been charted in over 50 years, so existing charts rely on historical data produced by less accurate methods.

NOAA has contracted with Fugro, a geo-data specialist, which uses both manned and unmanned vessels to scan the seafloor. Their FAS-900 uncrewed surface vessel (USV) uses sonar technology to produce sound waves and analyze them when they bounce back off of the seafloor, producing highly accurate data.

So far, they’ve scanned over 30,000 line miles in the region, and they plan to have the entire data set completed by December 2020. They’ll be covering four sites in the Big Bend Region as part of the Florida Coastal Mapping Program, a larger initiative that’s designed to fill in the gaps in existing data along the state’s entire coast.

How NOAA updates nautical charts

Until recently, nautical charts were made using old survey technologies, including radar and a navigation system known as Loran-C. Not only that, but cartographers compiled charts by hand until NOAA began scanning them in 1994!

Now, the availability of GPS and sonar technologies means that boaters expect more accurate charts—and with the help of Fugro, NOAA is able to produce them.

NOAA can use this technology to re-survey the seafloor and find details that:

  • weren’t detected by historical survey technologies
  • are the result of wrecks and other human impacts
  • appeared due to storms or other natural changes

Currently, federal guidelines require charts to be accurate to within 15 meters on a scale of 1:20,000. The Coast Survey is also introducing a “category zone of confidence” (or CATZOC) label to help boaters determine how accurate their charts are.

When completed, the updated charts of Apalachicola will be invaluable to fishing boats, marine biologists, and recreational boaters alike.

Where to get nautical charts

Although only commercial vessels are required to have nautical charts on board, they’re highly recommended for recreational boaters to ensure a safe journey. Modern boaters can use a combination of paper charts, digital charts, and GPS signals to keep track of their position at all times.

Whether you’re sailing off the coast of Florida or elsewhere in the U.S., you can find the latest up-to-date nautical charts at OceanGrafix. Search by region, map, chart number, or chart type to find the charts you need, and be sure to update them on a regular basis to help you stay safe at sea!




What is SHOM in 200 Words

September 4, 2020

When scanning through the many nautical charts available, you may have come across SHOM charts and wondered what they are. SHOM is an acronym for Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine Françaises, which is France’s Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service. So be aware before you order—SHOM charts are written in both French and English.

Similar to NOAA, this department of France’s Ministry of Defense is responsible for producing nautical charts for the waters under French jurisdiction and in areas under France’s cartographic responsibility.

Dating back three centuries to its original designation as the Depot, SHOM traces its history to November 19, 1720 when France became the first country to establish a national hydrographic service. This trailblazing organization has a rich and interesting history.

For today’s sailors, there are over 800 SHOM charts worldwide. To locate and order your SHOM charts from OceanGrafix, you can browse all Shom charts or browse by region.

You can find SHOM charts for the following areas:




28 Must-Have Charts for Sailing in the Caribbean

September 4, 2020

The Caribbean is home to some of the world’s most popular sailing destinations. If you’re planning a trip to the sea with nearly 7,000 islands, you’ll need the right charts to get you there. Both SHOM and Imray offer great nautical charts of the Caribbean Sea. In fact, between the two nautical chart types, you can pick among 100 charts. To make it easier, we’ve narrowed it down to our five favorite destinations: Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua, and Guadeloupe. Make sure to pack these must-have sea charts for your next trip.

  1. Barbados

Daydreaming of white sand beaches, secret caves, underground lakes, and tidal pools? Barbados is the spot for you! Snorkel with the sea turtles, find a great surf spot, or simply relax. Check out these charts for sailing around Barbados:

  • SHOM7615: A full view of the island and approaches from every side
  • SHOM7628: Close ups of the following ports: Bridgetown Harbor, Oistins Bay, Speightstown, and Port St. Charles
  • Imray-B2: A tighter full view of the island with close ups of Bridgetown, Port St. Charles and Port Ferdinand, and Speightstown
  • Imray-B5: A view of Barbados including the surrounding islands: Martinique, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Tobago
  1. St. Lucia

St. Lucia is known for its champagne sunsets and clear starry skies. On land you can find the picturesque Piton mountains, palm tree lined beaches, and rainforests. To chart your course, you’ll need these maps from SHOM and Imray:

  • SHOM7614: A full view of the island and approaches from every side
  • SHOM7622: Close ups of the following ports: Port Castries, Vieux Fort, Grand Cul De Sac Bay, and Marigot Harbor
  • SHOM7623: A closer view of approaching the island from the north, including an inset of Rodney Bay Lagoon
  • Imray-B1: A tighter full view of the island with insets of Soufriere Bay, Port Castries, Grand Cul De Sac Bay, Marigot Harbor, Rodney Bay, Laborie Bay, and Vieux Fort
  • Imray-A4: A chart spanning from Guadeloupe to St. Lucia, perfect for island hopping
  1. Grenada, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines

If you enjoy island hopping, this is the perfect area for you. With 32 islands and cays, Grenada, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines offer you an idyllic spot in the Caribbean. Visit one or all of the nine inhabited islands, including St. Vincent, Young Island, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union Island, Mayreau, Petit St. Vincent, and Palm Island, or visit the Tobago Cays Marine Park. The area offers white sand beaches, coconut palm trees, mountain scenery, snorkeling, diving, and more. But don’t leave without getting the charts you need:

  • SHOM7627: A full few of Grenada and close ups of Grenada Bay, Grenville Harbor, and St. David’s Harbor and Woburn Bay
  • SHOM7611: A full view of The Grenadines island chain, including insets of Mayreau and Clifton Harbor by Union Island
  • SHOM7610: A closer view of the southern portion of The Grenadines, including insets of Hillsborough Bay and approaches to Carriacou via Watering Bay
  • SHOM7612: A closer view of the northern portion of The Grenadines, including an inset of Charlestown Bay
  • SHOM7613: A full view of St. Vincent and Bequia, including an inset of Admiralty Bay
  • Imray-B311: A closer view of the middle of The Grenadines, from Canouan to Carriacou
  • Imray-B6: Routes among Grenanda, Tobago, and Trinidad
  • Imray-B3: A full view of The Grenadines island chain
  • Imray-B32: Routes between Carricou and Grenada, including insets of Grenada’s South Coast, Grenville Harbor, Grenada’s Southeast Coast, Tyrrel Bay, Grenada Bay, and St. George’s Harbor
  • Imray-B5: Routes among Martinique, Grenada, Tobago, and Barbados
  • Imray-B30: Routes between St. Vincent and Mustique, including insets of Kingstown Bay, Calliaqua Bay and Blue Lagoon, Admiralty Bay, the West Coast of Mustique, Baliceaux and Battowia, Friendship Bay, and Chateaubelair Bay
  1. Antigua

One of the Leeward Islands, Antigua offers secluded coves, small bays, powdery white sand, and turquoise waters. Sailors enjoy exploring the exotic marine life, natural coral, and ancient forts. The north side of the island provides stable and calm conditions to sailors, while the south side provides more thrilling adventures. Falmouth Harbor is one of the world’s best mega-yacht destinations. You’ll want these charts before your visit:

  • SHOM7618: A full view of the island and approaches from every side
  • SHOM7624: A view of the north coast of Antigua, including an inset of Saint John’s Harbor
  • Imray-A27: A closer view of Antigua, including insets of Nonsuch Bay, Falmouth and English Harbors, Mamora Bay, and Jolly Harbor’s approaches
  • Imray A271: A new of the north coast of Antigua
  1. Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe is one of the best kept boating secrets of the Caribbean. French and Caribbean cultures meet on this butterfly-shaped archipelago composed of five islands. It offers long beaches, sugarcane fields, and Guadeloupe National Park, which encompasses a tropical rainforest, coastal forest, and marine reserve. It’s also home to an active volcano—La Grande Soufriere. Be sure to include these charts on your packing list:

  • SHOM7345: A full view of the five islands of Guadeloupe and approaches from every side
  • Imray-A28: A closer view of the five islands of Guadeloupe, including insets of Marina de Riviere Sens, Pointe a Pitre, Deshaies, Port Louis, Gosier, Des de la Petite Terre, and Sainte Francois and Marina de la Grande Saline
  • Imray-A281: Anchorages in Guadaloupe, Les Saintes, and Marie-Galante
  • Imray-A4: Routes from Guadeloupe to St. Lucia, the Leeward/Winward Islands passage chart

These are just five of the many destinations the Caribbean has to offer! There’s so much more to explore. As a bonus, here’s one more chart of the entire Caribbean Sea: SHOM6898.

For more charts of the Caribbean, browse SHOM and Imray charts to find the charts perfect for your trip.




A Brief Guide to Emergency Distress Signals

August 21, 2020

Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency is integral to having a safe and fun recreational boating experience. Maintaining up-to-date nautical charts and keeping an eye on the weather can help you avoid major incidents, but no amount of preparation can take the place of emergency signaling equipment like flags and flares.

Boaters of all experience levels should carry emergency distress signals on board. That way, if you run into danger, you’ll have everything you need on hand to get help.


Having visual distress signals on your boat isn’t just a good idea – it’s the law. The U.S. Coast Guard has a guide outlining which signals are approved for use by day or night, as well as for recreational vs. commercial vessels.

Some vessels, such as kayaks, rowboats, and some sailboats, are exempt from these rules during daytime hours, but all vessels must have appropriate signals at night. The rules apply on all bodies of water greater than 2 miles wide, including coastal waters.


If you’re operating a vessel that’s longer than 16 feet, you’re required to have at least three daytime signals and three nighttime signals – or three signals that can be used either in the daytime or at night. Visual distress signals can be broken down into two categories: pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic.

Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals: Pyrotechnic distress signals include handheld and parachute flares, and other devices that create light, flame, smoke, or sound. Aerial flares are designed to travel as high as 375 to 500 feet into the air, making it easier for rescuers to locate you, while parachute flares are designed to descend slowly and burn for up to 40 seconds.

Other pyrotechnic options include floating smoke signals that release orange smoke for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. You may need a combination of several different types of flares before your rescuer can successfully locate you.

Non-pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals: Non-pyrotechnic distress signals include a wider range of equipment, including marker dyes, SOS distress lights, flags, and signal mirrors. These types of devices last longer than pyrotechnic devices but may not be as visible. Here’s a brief run-down of each of these options:

  • Marker dyes are used to dye the water around your vessel (up to 150 sq. ft.) and are most useful when an aerial search has already begun.
  • SOS distress lights are LED devices that can last for up to 60 hours and can be seen for up to 10 nautical miles. They flash the international SOS signal.
  • Signal mirrors are handheld mirrors that allow you to reflect sunlight over great distances. They usually have a small hole in them to help you aim.
  • A distress flag is a visual signaling device that can be effective during daytime hours. It should be 3 x 3 feet in size, with a black circle and square on an orange background. Wave it from a paddle or mast for the most visibility.

Other distress signals include non-visual devices such as EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), radio signals, airhorns, and other noisemakers.


Since you only have a limited number of devices on your boat, it’s important to use them wisely. Remember that even after you’ve signaled for help, your rescuers still need to be able to locate you, and it may take minutes or hours for them to get to you.

Your first step should be to fire your red distress flare, and then another one right after it, so your rescuers can determine your position. Even if a rescue boat sees your flare, you may continue to drift on the water, and they may not be able to see you over the horizon until they’re within 3 to 5 miles of your boat.

That means you should use your additional flares strategically, and only when the signal is likely to be seen by another vessel. Smoke signals, handheld flares, and marker dyes all work better in some weather conditions than others.

Finally, always be careful when using pyrotechnic devices. They’re essentially fireworks, so you should wear gloves and point them away from people and objects.

Of course, the best scenario is one in which you don’t need to use emergency distress signals at all. At OceanGrafix, you can search for up-to-date nautical charts by region, or view our Light Lists for guides to buoys, beacons, and other navigational aids.