Although there are specific rules for when the Coast Guard requires or suggests that visual distress signals be carried on boats, I simply don’t understand why anyone would be on the water without them regardless of if they’re required or not.
Even if you’re simply spending a day on a lake, if your engine fails and there’s no one around, well, you’re sort of up a creek (pardon the pun). If you at least had a visual distress signal on board, you might have a chance of attracting attention (even from onshore). And, hopefully, you’ll never need distress signals because you ran aground – what was he thinking (picture taken on the Chesapeake Bay)?!
Visual distress signals come in many flavors from pyrotechnic items such as orange smoke bombs shot into the sky to non-pyrotechnic electric distress signals like an orange flag attached to the boat in trouble. These type of distress signals also come in those used specifically for day (such as the ‘floating orange smoke signal’ to those used for night (such as the Parachute Flare – can be used for day also).
Air horns may not be approved by the Coast Guard for use as distress signals but they sure are handy to have on board for notifying other boats of your position – particularly when coming into and out of marinas where there are blind corners leading to waterways.