The humble flare, continued

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In my last column, we started a discussion on the importance of the humble flare to your boating safety. In this installment, we’ll continue the discussion of flares aboard your recreational boats with a focus on handling and storage.

I again look to one of my favorite Web sites,, for details on the federal requirements. Here are the specifics:

“Pyrotechnic devices should be stored in a cool, dry location and must be readily accessible in case of an emergency,” the site states. After discussing potential damage, it continues, “A watertight container, such as a surplus ammunition box, painted red or orange and prominently marked ‘DISTRESS SIGNALS’ is recommended.”

Email newsletter signup

If young children are frequently aboard your boat, careful selection and proper stowage of visual distress signals becomes especially important. If you elect to carry pyrotechnic devices, choose devices that are in tough packaging and that would be hard to ignite accidentally.

Coast Guard-approved pyrotechnic devices carry an expiration date. This date cannot exceed 42 months from the date of manufacture. After that date, the device can no longer be counted toward the minimum requirements.

A wide variety of signaling devices, both pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic, can be carried to meet the requirements of the regulation.

Boats less than 16 feet in length that operate in coastal waters and certain other exempted boats need carry only night signaling devices when operated at night. All other recreational boats must carry both night and day signaling devices.

If pyrotechnic devices are selected, a minimum of three must be carried. Any combination can be carried, as long as they add up to three signals for day use and three signals for night use. Three day/night signaling devices meet both requirements.

The following is an illustration of the variety and combinations of devices that can be carried in order to meet the requirements:

4Three hand-held red flares (day and night)

4One electric distress light (night)

4One hand-held red flare and two parachute flares (day and night)

4One hand-held orange smoke signal, two floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light (day and night).

Here is an important note, especially since the News-Herald Web site is accessed around the country, and the world — In some states, launchers for meteors and parachute flares may be considered firearms.

This puts you in a completely different situation than your standard flare. I strongly recommend, before purchasing any of these items, that you check with your individual state agency that has responsibility before acquiring such a launcher.

You can also contact your local police department, which will always steer you in the right direction.

Until our next column, boat safe, boat smart and respect the importance of the humble flare.