Distress Flares form an essential part of the safety equipment inventory on any yacht or boat that ventures to sea. Flares are like an insurance policy – all sorted and up to date, just in case the worst happens, but hopefully never actually used. Flares all have an expiry date which is effectively a maximum of 4 seasons. Old, out of date flares should be disposed of and not kept onboard even as a back-up.
Flare pack contents are limited in quantity so ensure that there is a good chance of being seen before you set one off. The earth’s curvature creates the horizon and the distance is dependent upon height above sea level e.g. you may be able to see the light on top of a yacht’s mast from your deck but that does not mean that their crew will be able to see your hand flare from their deck.
It is therefore important to select the right type and colour for different situations/incidents.
Flares, even when set off correctly, can be dangerously hot, so a leather protective glove (or a pair depending on the intricacy of the firing mechanism) is a good addition to your flares polybottle. Practice is a good idea, but only on an official safety course when the Coastguard have been informed.
How to select the correct marine flares to suit your requirements:
Pyrothechnics can be divided into two types which have very different applications:
Illumination Flares – produce a bright red or white light - effective in murky weather or at night (dim light or darkness) – not so effective in bright light - red is for attracting attention, white is for illuminating an incident but can also be used for attracting attention.
There are 2 types of Illumination Flare:
Hand Held Flares – as the name implies, are held and set off while in the hand - they burn at deck level, typically for 60 seconds at 1500 candela (comparative measure of brightness) – making them suitable for attracting attention and/or pinpointing your position in a relatively small radius.
Parachute also known as Rocket Flares – are also set off from the hand but are projected to a height of 300 metres – typically burn for 40 seconds at 30,000 candela (compared with 1500 for hand held) – the combination of height above sea level and the intensity of the light means that they are visible over a much greater range than hand held flares but deliver less accuracy in terms of location.
Smoke Flares – produce a dense orange smoke – visible in daylight – ineffective at night - for attracting attention
There are 2 types of Smoke Flare:
Hand Held - as the name implies, are held and set off while in the hand - they burn at deck level, typically for 1 minute – making them suitable for attracting attention and/or pinpointing your position in a relatively small radius.
Float Smoke – are also set off in the hand but then thrown into the water to float independently – they typically emit a dense orange smoke for 3 minutes.
N.B. Because of their hazardous nature, no one under 18 years of age may legally purchase distress signal flares and the carriers that carry them have to be licensed and authorised.
Flares are available individually or in packs.
Select your pack according to how far offshore you intend to venture.
Electronic Distress Signals are now available as a viable modern alternative to traditional illuminating flares.
Electronic generally means a floating, battery operated, Red LED light with no heat, flames or personal risk.
Electronic flares are therefore only an alternative or better still a back up to your red hand held flares.
- Compact, easy to stow
- Very safe
- Easy to transport (even on an aeroplane)
- Much longer operating life enhanced by the fact that it can be turned on and off at the users discretion.
- Much longer storage life due to modern batteries.