Are flares redundant? Your views

Are flares redundant? Your views Last month, we asked the pertinent question of whether flares were redundant and were inundated with responses. Space precludes from publishing them all, but here is a selection of the best and most pertinent points raised.

Man with Flare Last month, we asked the pertinent question of whether flares were redundant and were inundated with responses. Space precludes from publishing them all, but here is a selection of the best and most pertinent points raised.

Dear Editor,

It seems to me as someone who has a coded boat that we should start with the commercial vessels code and other recreational boating should follow that lead.

The need for flares is obviously redundant if there is an alternative means of raising assistance in an emergency situation. Codes of practice should in my view call for either flares or and EPIRB or PLB and this would I believe naturally move flares to the least popular choice e.g. many boaters would prefer to carry an EPIRB rather than flares but as flares are mandatory they often will not buy both.

We should be encouraged to carry an EPIRB or PLB in preference to flares.


Keith Feltham

�Dear Editor, �

In�two words the answer is definitely not. My reply is based on the experience of�70 years leisure sailing in all types of craft and in many places around Europe and further afield. This has ranged from�crewing on a rescue launch during the�1948 Torbay Olympics, 20 years as an active member of the RORC which included 3 Admiral's Cup campaigns, 8 years as the Principal of an RYA approved cruising school and over 40 years of family cruising, almost entirely in yachts of less than 30 feet. �

I have used flares in anger only once, when dismasted on a 57 ft Yacht during an RORC�Channel Race gale�36 years ago. The yacht had already done the Cape to Rio race, and the Bermuda Race before crossing the Atlantic again for the Admiral's Cup�Series. It was equipped with MF, UHF and VHF radios, all operating from masthead aerials, which clearly were of no use with the mast over the side bashing holes in the hull. Although several miles from shore, our parachute flares were spotted by a member of the public who alerted the local lifeboat, which potentially saved the life of a crew member trapped between the coffee grinder pedestal and�the boom with a suspected fractured spine.��

When cruising in small yachts, it is not uncommon for radios and instruments to get wet and malfunction in heavy weather�and for batteries to go flat, rendering them useless. My wife and I still cruise in a 24 ft yacht�on which I always carry a full offshore flare kit of in-date flares, together with the previous out -of -date batch of unused flares as back-up. Flare demonstration experience has taught me that properly stored flares of up to 15 years old can still be relied upon. Years ago,�sailing club members were encouraged to let off old flares under supervision at the end of the season,�so that everyone knew what to expect and how to use them safely in an emergency. Sadly this very valuable practice has had to be abandoned due to excessive Government regulation, which is part of the disposal problem today.

The number of flares requiring disposal in the UK could�immediately be reduced by 25%, simply by buying flares from European manufacturers,�from whom�for more than 30 years SOLAS approved flares have been available with a 4 year life and�are significantly�cheaper than those with a 3 year life, produced by the Pains Wessex monopoly in the UK.�I firmly believe that flares, in common with liferafts and lifebelts, which are also very rarely used in anger, are essential safety items on any small craft that goes to sea.

The fact that the MCA have opted out of Coastwatching is not a�valid argument against flares�because�The National Coastwatch Institution has partially replaced this function, to say nothing of the greatly increased number of leisure craft as well as fishing and other commercial vessels who report flare sightings. In any event, my own experience is that members of the public also fulfil a very valuable role in this respect. �

With regard to disposal of old flares, the Government has created a farcical situation, which I have no doubt will result in very many flares joining the vast quantities of surplus military ordnance from 2 world wars at the bottom of the Hurd Deep and many of the other deep trenches around the European coast line. A more ecologically friendly solution is urgently required. �

Yours sincerely, � �

John Fletcher�����

Dear Editor,

I most heartily agree that the carriage of these expensive limited life explosive devices should cease to be compulsory. �

In a Mayday situation it is far more important for the skipper or crew to be able calmly to transmit their distress call by radio, to set-off the EPIRB and, if thought likely to be necessary, to ready the liferaft than to srabble for the correct types of flare and to set them off safely. �

A "rule" that does need re-promulgating by the RYA, RNLI, MCA and everyone involved is the need for every craft or ship when at sea to�maintain a listening watch on�Ch 16 at all times and to have DSC radios on.

A�distress call is more likely to be heard than a flare is to be seen, particularly in daylight, provided the radio is on. �

Roger Richardson

Dear Editor,

It seems an ironic coincidence that the June e-newsletter should carry an article asking whether flares are redundant in the age of electronic technology alongside another article giving tips on astro-navigation and a special offer to purchase a sextant in case your electronics fail. �

By the way, I'm hanging on to my old flares as I am sure they'll come back into fashion one day.


Alastair Cuthill

Dear Sir,

One pertinent fact has been exposed: If you do set off�flares who is going to see it/them?

With the withdrawal of many MCA stations the are are limited areas covered by Coast Watch Services, and most of these are not manned during darkness.

Pyrotechnics could be a fall-back system in the event of total loss of power, but I have invested in an EPIRB with its own inbuilt battery. That does not rely on someone being in sight, seeing a flare of relatively short duration.

Who is going to be out walking in filthy weather looking out to sea??? �Pyrotechnics have had their day, but I believe France insists in them being carried and out of date ones invite a fine!

Food for thought?

Robin Friend.

Dear Editor,

Interesting article and bound to say that I agree with the thrust of it � flares have had their day and are more trouble and expense than they are worth. �

Essentially, rather than spending money on time expired and then hard to safely/legally dispose of flares, items which in any case are dangerous to the user, it is better to buy an EPIRB, PLB and a powerful torch in the absence of deck lighting.

With, of course, a DSC radio and a back up handheld set along with a back up aerial for the main set. The final item � the mobile phone � is not even a purchase as just about everyone has one. Albeit that a waterproof case is a good idea in the absence of a PLB. �

On the collision avoidance side, AIS with B output is not only incredibly useful but great psychologically. At the moment something that is essentially simple is vastly overpriced but that will no doubt come down. As should active radar reflectors, the price of which is even more difficult to begin to justify.


John Tanzer

Sir, �

I read with interest the article in Cruising News concerning the carriage of flares.� I find it irritating, to say the least, that pyrotechnic manufacturers are lobbying legislators to make the carriage of flares compulsory whilst doing nothing to address the problem of disposal.�

I believe that manufacturers, through their retail network, must be obligated to provide safe disposal of their life expired products and the cost of this should be included in the purchase price.�

Indeed, it would make good business sense for a manufacturer to offer a discount on new flares when expired flares are safely returned.� It certainly falls outside the responsibilities of HMCG and I do not blame them for no longer providing a disposal service. �

I have a complete flare pack on board my 10m sailing boat, but if the current situation persists I will not be paying for replacements when these expire.� I have a DSC radio and a 121.5 EPIRB and I am saving up for a 406 one! �

Regards, �

Eamon Green

Dear Editor,

Yes please - start a campaing to rid us of the need to carry these dangerous, expensive and environmentally horrible flares on our yachts.

If people wish to continue to carry them they can but�I would much prefer an Epirb any day. I have a large collection of redundant flares at home that I cannot get rid of. I suspect most yachtsmen have these dangerous items gathering dust.

They are more of a safety hazard than the problem that they were there to solve.


Richard Aston

Dear Editor,

Notwithstanding a UK view I understand that some nations insist you carry flares, i.e. France?�I believe that I read somewhere that someone, British, was fined by the French authorities for carrying out of date flares.

If that is correct what would they think if we carried no flares at all! I realise this is only up for discussion but the foregoing immediately occurred to me when I read the piece. � For the time being I'll carry flares until otherwise advised. � �


Gordon patrick

Dear Sir,

If I fired a flare in distress or urgency would anyone see it? Would anyone recognise its meaning? �

Life moves on. We now have multiple electronic means of getting "seen" when in distress or urgency. I have a GPS EPIRB on my life vest and, when I can get a carrier for it, an orange smoke. �

If I encounter a situation I'm unlikely to have time to stand on the foredeck of my vessel firing off flares. I'm likely to have 30 seconds in order to get my crew and myself into a safe situation.

Then I'll probably be in the water; and now trying to fire a flare? � Flares are outdated. I'm sure that maroons are still very useful though; but that's for another reason. �

Yours sincerely,

Mike Yorke

Dear Editor, �

I still carry an in-date offshore pack along with my most recent out of date pack, except when travelling to France, where I could apparently face prosecution for possession of a set of out of date flares.�

I also carry a 1� Very pistol with a generous allowance of red, white, and �bang� cartridges.� I take the view that using a pistol is completely intuitive, so that there is far less danger of accidently shooting yourself in the foot than there is with a 2� cylinder which in the heat of the moment could easily be used pointing up instead of down. �

I have twice used the pistol, on each occasion to alert a fast moving motorboat to the fact that he was in imminent danger of running down a swimmer.� �

A good friend of mine was wrecked in heavy weather a couple of years ago in the Med, and VHF mayday calls achieved nothing, whereas popping half a dozen rockets off in front of the bridge of a passing freighter caused it to slow down and rescue them � electronics do not always work. �

When I lived in Coventry I 'disposed' of old flares each year on November 5th , wearing gloves and eye protection.� I took the view that practically no-one in the massively urbanised West Midlands would recognise any of these pyrotechnics as distress signals, and that anyone who did recognise them would simply smile knowingly about someone letting off their old flares on bonfire night.

It was invaluable training in the use of them, both for me and for my crew � and incidentally in ten years I only ever had one rocket which did not work perfectly.� �

I would of course not dream of disposing of them that way now that I live in a coastal area nor would I do it anywhere near moorland or hills. �


John Holloway���