Distress Flares are an essential piece of kit for any vessels that are used at sea or inland waterways. Predominantly used as a way to signal for help, flares can also be used to warn other boats about your position as to avoid potential collisions. Different types and colours of flares should be used in certain situations and different colours should be used based on the time of day. Read on to find out more...
What types of marine flares are there?
Handheld Flares – Handheld flares are used to supply a ‘homing signal’ to help your rescuers pinpoint your position. Depending on your elevation, handhelds should be visibility up to 5 nautical miles and even more from the air. It could take rescuers a significant amount of time to cover this distance, so it’s recommended you carry several handheld flares to cover this duration and ensure you stay visible.
Ariel (Rocket) Flares – This type of flare is designed to attract attention when you are in distress. It is recommended that you fire off two signal flares. The first is so you can be initially spotted and the second so that your position and distance can be confirmed by
potential rescuers. Parachute rockets don’t need to be fired twice as they have a much longer burn time (30- 60 seconds).
LED Flares – A relatively new option, LED flares offer an alternative to traditional pyrotechnic handhelds. Rather than using explosives to burn they used battery powered LED’s to emit a powerful signal. Benefits include a much longer ‘burn’ time’. Some can last up to 5 hours at full illumination.
What do the different colours mean when using flares?
RED distress flares are to be used only in the case of an emergency when immediate assistance is required. Because of the nature of red flares and what they mean, it is highly illegal to fire or ignite any red flare either out on the water or along the coastline to avoid calling out emergency services for no reason. Red distress flares are predominantly used at night because they are more visible.
ORANGE distress flares carry the same meaning as red flares but are designed to be used in daylight as they are easier to see than red flares due to the billowing clouds of orange smoke that are produced.
WHITE Flares are used to warn other ships of your position in order to avoid collisions. They are also useful for illuminating the water at night in a man-overboard situation. A parachute flare would be ideal for this use.
When and how should I use distress flares?
Visual Distress Signals (VDS), including distress flares, should only be used in cases where you require immediate assistance. The nature of these signals means they should only be used when there is a possibility of someone seeing them or you can be reasonably sure that someone on shore, on another boat or in a plane is in position to see your signal and take action. Remember, good judgement and proper use of your safety equipment is an essential part of a successful rescue.
How should I dispose of old flares?
It is important to dispose of old flares properly. They should not simply be placed in the bin or incinerated, as this could cause injury or fires. It is also illegal to dump them into the sea.
You should be able to hand them into:
- Local Liferaft Service Station
- Harbour Police
- Local Fire Brigade or Local Police Station
- Ministry of Defence
- Hazardous Waste Disposal Companies
Other things to consider...
- Be sure to always check the condition of your flares before setting off
- Flares must always be kept safe and dry to enable proper use. It’s a good idea to keep them in a watertight housing to keep them in good condition
- Position your flares in an accessible place, they should be easy to get to in an emergency and everyone on board should know where they are. Remember to always keep flares out of the reach of children
- Remember to always properly read manufacturers instructions and directions before using or storing your flares
- Flares perish over time so make sure yours are in date before setting off and ensure they are replaced periodically
- Depending on the type of sailing you do, it may be a good idea to have personal flares on your person as well as on-board flares
- It may be prudent to carry flares on liferafts, tenders and other smaller vessels in case of emergency
- Always use flares mindfully. The misuse of flares can warrant severe penalties
What should I do if I see a distress flare?
There is an unwritten rule which requires any mariner to positively respond to any distress call. The first step to take is ensure the coast guard or emergency service is contacted and made aware of the situation. If you are in a position to offer other aid, such as providing medical help, towage, salvage etc then you should. Remember this only means if it is safe to do so, trying to help and endangering yourself and your vessel may only aggravate the situation.