For some time the issue of flare disposal has been troubling all of us recreational boaters. No, we are not talking about how to get rid of a particularly unfashionable pair of trousers, we’re talking about pyrotechnics.
Most of us accept that it is prudent to carry some method of sending a distress alert and locating our position, it's a no- brainer really. The problems start, however, when you try to dispose of the out of date ones.
The difficulty that we now have in getting rid of the old flares or Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP) has arisen from changes in the rules by the Health and Safety Executive on carriage and storage, the loss of Crown Exemption for the MCA on coastguard premises and the withdrawal of the free collection and disposal service once provided by the MoD Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams.
The problem is further exacerbated because the costs of disposal are not tied in to the cost of purchase and any such scheme is strongly resisted by distributors in the face of severe competition from overseas imports and direct on-line purchasing which puts them at a disadvantage.
This presents a serious problem for all us recreational boaters: stockpiles of weapons in Iraq pale into insignificance compared to the stockpiles of TEP accruing in bilges, locker recesses and garden sheds!.
So where has the RYA been in all of this? The RYA's Stuart Carruthers explains: “The RYA has been engaged with Government and various agencies for over 3 years now to point out that a series of unrelated actions would inevitably cause problems for TEP disposal.
The publication of an MCA MGN which exhorted yachtsmen to dispose of TEP responsibly offered no advice on what that might be.
Stuart added: “Since then the RYA has been very proactive in seeking a solution to the problem from Government and has not let them ignore the issue.
"As a result there is now recognition that something needs to be done and in January the MCA implemented a limited system for taking a small amount of TEP from private individual.
Basically, you now have to make an appointment with your nearest Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) and tell them of the number and type of flares you need to dispose of. The Coastguard will then advise you of how, when and if they will dispose of them.
This is still far from perfect but the MCA and DfT are now working towards something more permanent as the MCA stress that it has no statutory duty to dispose of TEP.
Stuart commented: “The MCA’s statement is at least a step in the right direction, but it is far from a satisfactory solution. The good news is that we have a Government organisation at least tentatively taking responsibility for TEP disposal.
“One of the issues that we are now discussing is the need for flare carriage at all. Flares were developed as an alerting and locating devices in the days when most boats had no electronic equipment and 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.
"Given that anything that explodes is dangerous and given that the failure rate is reportedly high, this is a debate that must take place to update carriage advice in the 21 century and hopefully reduce the stockpiles of TEP.”