Marine Distress Flares
- Check the Boating Safety Guide on the Links page to see what the requirement is for your boat. Later in the guide, it will give you a picture and a brief overview of the types of flares and how to use them. Note that all flares are good for four years from the date of manufacture.
- Parachute flares (Type A) are considered the best for most situations. The rocket takes the flare at least 300m above the vessel. It then descends slowly under parachute and burns brightly, so gives the best chance of being seen at a distance. But they are the most expensive.
- Multi-star flares (Type B) are like a Roman Candle, they go high, but immediately drop back down. They are also not as bright as a parachute flare. They are visible at a greater range than a hand held flare, but briefly. Remember you need two stars to equal one flare.
- Hand Held flares (Type C) generally cannot be seen for long distances (as you are likely holding it only 2 or 3 metres above sea level), but are brighter than a star, and burn longer.
- Smoke Flares (type D) work best for being seen by a passing aircraft. Type D usually cannot be part of your vessel's equipment requirement, as they can only be used in daylight.
- Here is a link to a short YouTube Video outlining most types of flares and their use. It doesn't cover type B (star), and Coast Guard Stations no longer accept expired flares..
- Here is a link to a YouTube video from West Marine that quickly explains how to use the hand flare and smoke flare. In the video it talks about the need for three flares, but check the Boating Safety Guide for your vessel size and type. The video also talks of "meteor" flares, probably referring to star and parachute flares.
- Here is a link to a YouTube video from Orion explaining in detail how to use their hand held flares. It is a US video, but the principles remain the same.
Here is a link to a YouTube video on using Comet Parachute flares. One section talks of the requirements for commercial vessels, so is not applicable.
- Here is a link to a YouTube video on using Comet Smoke flares. One section talks of the requirements for commercial vessels, so is not applicable.
- Your brand or model of flare may not work the same way as the demo videos above. Make sure you (and your crew) are familiar with the manufacturer's instructions before you have an emergency.
- Check your manufacturer's instructions to verify, but flares must generally be kept dry and cool. A heavy duty, watertight case that protects the flares and may float free in an emergency is a good choice.
- Even a parachute flare will not be seen if nobody is looking. If possible make your distress call first, and save your flares until rescuers are in the area and tell you to launch them.
- Expired flares do not count towards your legal requirement, but keeping some recently expired flares on hand may improve your chances of being found.
- Check the dates of the flare when purchasing, you may be able to get a discount if the flares are older. Flare disposal is a problem; an internet search will provide the current locations where you may dispose of expired flares.
- It is illegal to use a flare unless it is a distress situation.