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Flares for Use at Sea

By Dave Simpson

After VHF, flares are probably your next choice for calling for help when out at sea. They allow you to give a clear signal of distress and simultaneously indicate your position, which any nearby vessel or emergency service will be able to see and come to your assistance.

Parachute Rocket Flare

Flares for Use at Sea

This would be the first flare you would choose to send out a .call for Help.. It fires a rocket about 300m up into the air burning a bright red flare held by a parachute for about 60 seconds. With reasonable visibility this could be seen up 30 miles away, so the lightly hood of someone seeing your signal is pretty good.

Orange Smoke Flare

Flares for Use at Sea

This flare is to be used during daylight hours. It can be used as a distress signal if a vessel is seen nearby, but tends to be used to give your location when the emergency services are sighted, having already used your rocket flare to send out a distress signal. It is also ideal to give wind direction to a rescue helicopter, burning for about 60 seconds.

Red Pinpoint Flare

Flares for Use at Sea

This flare is to be used during the hours of darkness. They normally burn for about 60 seconds. Its use is to give the emergency services your location when they are in your vicinity and searching for you. It is best to hold it high above your head, downwind so making the flare as visible as possible to any boats on the water.

Day & Night Flare

Flares for Use at Sea

This is a great flare to have in your buoyancy aid so that if you were to become separated with your boat you have some of way of pinpointing your position to the emergency services. As this is a small dual purpose flare its burn time may well be less than that of the larger single flares, so only use when the emergency services are sighted.

White Pinpoint Flare

This flare is not an essential part of everyone.s safety kit. Its use is to a give clear indication of your position to a larger vessel that may be on a collision course with you. It could be an option for a sea kayaker who paddles in busy waters where there is lots of shipping.

How do I use Flares?

Flares for Use at Sea

It is a good idea to become familiar with how your flares work when on dry land. Most flares will have instructions and diagrams on the side of the flare itself. However after a while these do tend rub off.
Flares have been made simple to use as people tend to be stressed when working them! They usually have a ribbed cap which unscrews and then a small toggle to pull, which will then trigger the flare to ignite after a small pause.
Day and night flares have a different number of ribs on each cap to determine day or night, as you could be trying to set off your flare in the dark!! So know how your flare works!!

How do I dispose of my Flares?

Flares for Use at Sea

Yes flares have a .date of manufacture. and .date of expiry. marked on the flare. This is normally about 3 years between dates, so when buying flares check that you will get maximum time out of your flare. Most decent yacht chandlers will only sell flares manufactured in the same year of purchase.

So when your flare does run out of date what do you do? Don.t wait till bonfire night as it causes emergency services much confusion and it is also illegal to fire any distress flare when not in an emergency situation. Take it to any local Coastguard station who will dispose of it safely. The Police or Fire service may also take your flares for you.

Some people will hold on to their flares as back up spares. Note that the burn time and brightness of your flare cannot be guaranteed after its expiry. It may not even work at all.

Don.t be a tight arse go out and buy some flares now.


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