Handbook of the Nautical Rules of the Road by Llana & Wisneskey

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Rule 36 -- Signals to Attract Attention


INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel, any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger, in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel. Any light to attract the attention of another vessel shall be such that it cannot be mistaken for any aid to navigation. For the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided.

If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel, any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger, in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel.

 

What do you do when your radio is broken or the other vessel doesn't have a radio (or may not be listening)? Rule 36 makes one suggestion, but mostly it tells you what you can't do to attract attention.

If you want to warn another vessel about danger, if you have a searchlight, , and it is dark, then you can direct your beam toward the dangerous area, being careful not to shine your light in others' faces (or you will embarrass them, not to mention making it difficult for them to see anything but spots).

The International version adds that you must not use a signal that could be mistaken for an aid to navigation. This prohibition aims to stop the use of flash tubes or "strobe lights" to attract attention. These lights have often been used by commercial fishing vessels and some recreational vessels to warn other vessels away. Such use is not legal on International Rules waters except under Rule 2 when a need to avoid immediate danger would justify a departure from Rule 36.

Even under Inland Rule 36, which does not explicitly prohibit strobe lights, you may not use to attract attention a strobe light that has the flash characteristic described for distress in Rule 37, that is, 50 to 70 flashes per minute.

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