Rescue Bullseye?

For the context of this question, imagine a worst case open water capsize, where you are separated from your boat, paddle, and only have your PFD and whatever emergency gear is contained within it.

Assume the water temp is warm enough or you have on appropriate gear for several hours to a day of in water survival. Assume it is known to authorities that you are missing and a search is likely to begin within a couple hours.

Similar to an inflatable PFD, is there a product that you could inflate or deploy that is more or less a floating yellow/orange tarp / bullseye / ring that would aid in searchers finding you?

I know of flares, VHF radios, mirrors, LED lights and other methods to signal a rescue…I’m wondering if anyone makes a “Bullseye” or some sort of device that would spread out over the surface of the water so a searcher would have a multi-hundred square foot brightly colored, possibly reflective target to look for, vs someone bobbing in the water which is almost invisible.

I’m just curious about anything available to make yourself more visible once in the water away from your boat other than a signal light or flare. Does anything like that exist?

SCUBA safety sausage
SCUBA divers sometimes carry an inflatable safety sausage (Amazon link to some A bulls eye would lie flat on the water, which would be hard to see for anyone in a boat. The sausage sticks straight up, which stands out for people who are in boats.

If you still have your paddle, you could do that same just by holding one blade of the paddle straight up in the air.

One idea

– Last Updated: Nov-23-15 1:35 PM EST –

I've seen big inflatable pyramids used for marking the course for a swim race. These things stand about 4 feet tall, and seem to be pretty light. They'd be pretty good for being spotted from a boat, though honestly, you'd still wish you had something bigger for being spotted from a plane (depending on the weather).

It would take a lot of air to inflate one of these markers, but you might be able to rig up something with a CO2 cartridge. Otherwise, while you're out there waiting, you'd have plenty of time to blow it up by mouth. :)

Dye Marker
PLBs are small and easily fit in a PFD pocket. In the situation you describe, I’d activate my PLB rather than rely on a visual marker. That said, closer to your original question you can get small dye markers that easily fit in a PFD pocket and color about 50 square feet of water bright red or bright green.

Greg Stamer

See Sarah Describe Her 4 Hour Ordeal
Lucky she had her paddle and a pfd that contained 2 litres of


Obviously, cell phones won’t work at the Na Pali, but if cell phone reception is good where you paddle, install a tracking app like Glympse, which I use to track my daughter wherever she paddles on Oahu to Rockport, MA.

Paint your paddle blades fluorescent pink. Wear fluorescent pink tops, caps and PFDs. Pink is the best, for I can spot it faster than any other color, including orange and fluorescent green out in heavy seas.

I’m with Greg
I don’t leave home without my PLB. It is in my PFD pocket.

Once it is initiated it sends your Coordinates directly to NOAA who alerts the closest rescue organization which is usually the Coast Guard.

There is no need for a target. Thay can hone right in on you

Jack L

Dye marker
A marine dye marker can be made of disodium fluorescein dye (aka uranine), a natural, biodegradable fluorescent powder. NASA used them for splashdowns, the Air Force for ditching at sea. Not sure a civilian can buy them, but the dye is available and not pricey - could put in linen or cheesecloth for jettisoning overboard.

Years ago a grad student (not me) spilled granulated disodium flourescein in his lab in a well-known NE college town. Instead of telling anyone, he washed it down the floor drain - as a result the bay glittered beautifully in the full moon for the rest of the night, and the city fielded multiple calls for odd lights in the bay…

You can also buy dye
But the plane had better be flying overhead at the point you open it.

Seriously, submersible VHF’s or PLS’s that’ll send a signal are likely the most reliable. Or a cell phone in a waterproof case in your PFD pocket even. They are getting some serious contenders out there now.

I’m with you…
I’m with you and the others - I’d use a PLB. But the OP wants a bullseye…

Thanks all,

I knew about SPOT and similar devices, I was just curious about all possible rescue aids.

Part of what prompted my question: I was reading about a rescue of a surf skiier who had become separated from his boat. Someone commented “Never loose your boat”. Duh. But when it does happen, I was curious of there was anything relatively small that could ‘substitute for a boat’ to make you significantly easier to see. The dive sock is about the closest to what I was thinking.

You’re right though, its hard to beat a homing beacon like the SPOT. I’ll have to get one of those next year.

FYI, a SPOT is useful and has some fun features, such as tracking and sending “I’m OK” messages but is far inferior and not nearly as robust as a personal locator beacon for sending a mayday.

One page that explains the differences is at

Watertribe races require both a SPOT AND a PLB. The SPOT, although it has an SOS feature is required mainly to provide tracking (so you show up on a tracking map). The PLB is to give you the best chance of actual rescue. A PLB has a stronger signal at a better frequency for cutting through weather clouds/tree cover and reaching satellites and also has a 121.5 MHz signal as a homing frequency.

FWIW, many people consider the Delorme InReach to be superior to the SPOT. It’s a 2-way device that allows for texting. The SPOT is one way and has no idea if the signal was received. It sends multiple messages (the hail Mary approach) and hopes for the best.

If I really need a rescue, I’d want a real PLB along. They are also cheaper, over time. Although you can’t replace the battery yourself, you don’t pay for an expensive annual subscription fee as is required for SPOT/Delorme.

I have both a SPOT (for tracking and OK messages) and an ACR ResQLink PLB.

Greg Stamer

X’s two !
Our adult kids, brother-in -law, etc, love to follow us on our daily jaunts here in the Keys via the Spot, but I had a PLB long before that and as far as my safety devices go I put them in the following order:

  1. My skirt
  2. My PFD, (yes, my skirt first)
  3. My PLB
  4. My Vhf radio
  5. whistle, pump, spare paddle, head lamp

    Jack L

Rescue strobe
I’ve heard the night vision goggles can pick up a strobe light ping even during the day from a few miles away. Not sure if someone else can verify.

There’s also the laser flair you can carry in a pocket but you need someone to shine it at.

I picked up a PLB a few years ago and carry that with me on more remote trips.

Passively floating or Actively Calling?

– Last Updated: Nov-25-15 11:33 AM EST –

There's all kind of good devices for a passive rescue. Depending on the remoteness of an area I also carry a green laser flare, pyrotechnic flares, signal mirror, whistle, etc (in addition to active devices such as a PLB, VHF and cell phone). Around Newfoundland I also carried large parachute flares.

The bigger question is, do you want to be bobbing around in the ocean, perhaps slowly succumbing to the cold and elements, while praying that someone just happens to see your bulls-eye, pink hat, flare or other device?

Or would you rather call the cavalry directly, providing them the direct coordinates of your position, and also giving them a homing beacon for good measure?

Don't get me wrong, you need options, but relying on passive visual signals as your first line of defense versus a direct communication to rescue services is not a good choice, in a true mayday situation. That said, it's a personal decision, and locale matters. There is a difference between an emergency in New York harbor versus a remote corner of Iceland.

Just my 2 cents.

Greg Stamer

I’d 2nd the strobe
since it will be visible from any angle and from a greater distance. The dye packs are a good backup for when the strobe loses power.

Flares are over-emphasized, but are really not the best signalling devices. The duration is too short and they are more likely to draw applause than help. Worse, only the commercial flare guns (those flare pistols you’ve seen used in movies and the like) will gain sufficient altitude for aircraft to pick up. The handheld flares are useless for same.

It is possible that something could be done along the lines of a highly reflective sheet rigged with float bags (such as the silver coated emergency mylar thermal blankets) to provide a larger reflective surface area and increase visibility from above. It’d be a cheap potential solution, would take up very little space, and would PROBABLY hold up long enough in swells or modest conditions. Of course, heavy wind and chop might not be the best environment for such and as these conditions are likely to be what would cause such a situation. Still, it seems that something could be designed in this manner, but an effective solution along these lines may well be too bulky.


“far inferior” - interesting
I knew that SPOT wasn’t as reliable in getting a signal out, but didn’t know it was far inferior. Is it so bad that one should avoid them for rescue purposes?

I do carry a PLB, so not in the market for a SPOT. Just wondering.

my PLB has a strobe
My ResQLINK+ PLB has a strobe built in. Could be one less piece of gear to carry. Also one more drain on the battery once activated, but supposedly the battery life is good (more than a day) when activated.