What do I do with my time expired flares?
No-one has ever objected to renewing their flares every three years; it’s an expense, but you really can’t put a price on safety. The issue has been that since 2004 it has become increasingly difficult to get rid of your old flares, meaning that some of us have been inadvertently stockpiling explosives.
While these don’t quite amount to weapons of mass destruction, it’s hardly safe to have a selection of explosives in your shed and the RYA has been pressing hard for some answers from the relevant authorities.
In 2008, the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) issued the following advice: ‘If you are a leisure user and you wish to dispose of your TEP’s, contact your local Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) and inform them of the number and their condition, the coastguard will then be able to advise whether it is able to accept your TEP’s and will discuss arrangements for you to deliver them to the appropriate storage facility.
‘Not all Coastguard MRCC’s have storage facilities and some may be a considerable distance from the MRCC, it is important to contact the MRCC to make arrangements to arrange for someone to be available to receive TEPs at these locations at a mutually agreed time.
‘The MCA has no statutory duty to dispose of these pyrotechnics, but recognises the potential danger to the public if these devices are not disposed of correctly. Out of date pyrotechnics should be landed ashore as soon as possible after the date of expiry for safe disposal. Damaged or out of date pyrotechnics should not be used.
‘The public are asked not to put TEP’s in general household rubbish in or public litter bins where they can cause extensive damage to refuse collection facilities and may injure persons who come into contact with them.'
Are flares redundant?
This brings us on to a wider question, it is pertinent to ask whether there are circumstances when you might reduce the need for flares or you might not need to carry them at all.
Think about it: in this day and age the vast majority of search and rescues incidents are triggered by an EPIRB and VHF DSC , which gives the MCA and rescue services all the information that they need to come to the aid of the vessel in distress. It is also a fact that many more rescues have been triggered and lives saved by raising the alert by mobile phone than by flares!
Add to this the fact that, in carrying a flare pack, you are essentially lugging around a pack of explosives which no-one seems able to get rid of once they expire. It is hardly surprising that people are starting to question the need for carrying them at all.
So what is the RYA's view on all this? Clearly there will always be those who wish to carry flares as part of their safety equipment and nothing should prevent them from doing so. However in this day and age, if there was an alternative to carrying something which has the potential to blow off your hand, surely it would be worth going for?
Cruising Manager Stuart Carruthers comments: "The whole farce over disposing of flares has made many question the validity of carrying them at all.
"Flares were developed as an alerting and locating device in the days before the days of modern electronics and when the coast was manned with coastguard lookouts.
"Nowadays we have EPIRB worldwide and VHF DSC locally in sea area A1 to raise the alert. This might reduce the requirement for flares to a locating function only, but even this might be replaced by non-explosive means."
The fact that the coastguard and RNLI now use far fewer pryrotechnics would seem to support this line of argument..
Peter Cardy, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, explained: "These days the coastguard uses hardly any pyrotechnics and we are reducing our stocks largely to orange smokes for marking landing sites."
Bear in mind how few flares are actually used in anger by recreational boaters and given both modern electronic alerting devices and the reorganisation of the MCA, it is now time to review the advice on the carriage of flares which really stems from those publications such as the small commercial vessels codes and which mandate carriage dependant on area of operation.
"We are not suggesting that flares are banned, but we do think it would be useful to look into alternatives and to review the compulsory carriage advice which many follow as an example with a view to reducing the number of Time Expired Flares out there."
What do you think? Contact the Editor with you views at firstname.lastname@example.org.