Electronic Flares

Electronic flares go by a number of names within the industry. You will come across names like e-flares, electric distress lights, or even SOS distress lights. Ultimately, these all refer to the same types of visual distress signal.

Unlike traditional single-use pyrotechnic flares, which can pose a fire hazard, these devices offer a sustainable and reusable solution.

The electric distress light is accepted for night use only and must automatically flash the international SOS distress signal, which is three short flashes, three long flashes, and three short flashes.

Whether you’re a seasoned mariner or an occasional boater, adapting to this type of emergency beacon is both a safety enhancement and a reduction in harmful environmental elements of traditional marine flares.

What are Electronic Flares?

Electronic flares, or e-flares, are a modern type of flare that provides an alternative to traditional pyrotechnic boat flares. Designed with LED technology, e-flares serve as distress signals that meet certain U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

Unlike traditional flares, they provide a reliable means to signal distress without the fire risk or environmental harm associated with pyrotechnic flares.

Development and Technological Advancements

Electronic flares have undergone significant transformations with advances in LED technology and battery life.

From bulky, short-lived models to sleek, long-lasting designs, modern e-flares often equipped with alkaline batteries offer prolonged operation times, making them dependable.

They align with USCG 161.013 specifications, indicating they’ve been rigorously tested for visibility, durability, and function.

E-Flares vs. Pyrotechnic Flares

Electronic flares differ from pyrotechnic flares in several key ways. E-flares are reusable, with a simple battery change, making them ready for action again.

Furthermore, they are significantly safer to operate because they do not produce a flame, reducing the risk of accidental fires onboard.

The U.S. Coast Guard has given specifications, such as USCG 160.072, for traditional pyrotechnic flares but is increasingly recognizing the benefits of electronic alternatives.

Design and Operation

Select a compact and buoyant E-Flare with a sturdy, waterproof design to ensure it floats and functions if dropped overboard.

Operating an e-flare is straightforward: with a push of a button, you can activate the SOS signal, a universally recognized distress code.

Visibility of this SOS signal in complete darkness is a critical feature of e-flares, designed to attract help when you most need it.

When using electronic flares, your aim is to ensure they are visible to potential rescuers. Hand-held e-flares should be held as high as possible, clear of any obstructions.

U.S. Coast Guard Requirements

The U.S. Coast Guard specifies that electronic visual distress signals must comply with certain regulations.

They should be labeled as a ‘Night visual distress signal for boats—complies with U.S. Coast Guard requirements’ and include the manufacturer’s name and the date of manufacture.

Remember to keep all flares stored safely up to date, as expired or non-compliant gear could put you at risk in an emergency.

Selection and Maintenance

Choosing the Right E-Flare

Consider the visibility it provides when selecting an E-Flare like the ACR ResQFlare or the LNK-ERS1.

Make sure the model is waterproof and suits your marine activities. High-quality E-Flares are a one-time purchase but must meet the operational needs, such as lasting a minimum of 2 hours.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Visibility: Ensures the flare is seen from a distance.
  • Durability: Look for a waterproof rating to ensure functionality in wet conditions.
  • Battery Life: It must last long enough to ensure rescue.

Maintenance and Storage

Regular checks are critical for ensuring your gear remains reliable. E-Flares should be stored in a dry, readily accessible place. Inspection should include:

Maintenance AspectAction Required
Battery CheckReplace or recharge batteries as per the manufacturer’s guidance.
Expiration DateRegularly verify that your device is within its operational life.
Function TestRegularly test the flare to ensure it’s working properly.

Disposal and Environmental Considerations

E-Flares are seen as an environmentally friendly alternative. The primary environmental consideration for electronic flares revolves around their role in reducing hazardous waste.

Traditional flares can have negative environmental impacts due to the toxic nature of flare disposal and safety concerns.

For example, in California alone, an estimated 174,000 outdated flares are generated yearly by recreational vessels​​.

Electronic flares eliminate the need for these potentially harmful pyrotechnic devices, thus reducing the accumulation of toxic waste in the environment.

However, it’s also important to consider the life cycle of electronic flares, including their manufacturing, power sources (like batteries), and disposal.

Contextual Applications of Electronic Flares

Electronic flares significantly enhance safety measures in various maritime activities. They offer a reliable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional pyrotechnic flares for signaling distress across diverse waterborne environments.

Recreational Boating

Recreational boaters, including those navigating pontoon boats, water sports boats, and sailboats, benefit greatly from the use of electronic flares.

Unlike traditional flares, an electronic VDS (E-Flare) provides a lasting light that ensures visibility over a protracted period, often exceeding 20 hours.

This feature is particularly beneficial for vessels like cruising boats or fishing boats making long passageways to the sea or traversing the vast Great Lakes.

Families seeking a safe journey can depend on these devices to send a clear SOS signal to rescue personnel without the risks associated with traditional flares.

Professional and Commercial Use

For commercial use, including charter services and freshwater boat operations, electronic flares represent a substantial step forward in safety and environmental responsibility.

Professional mariners and destinations that demand high safety standards have started considering electronic flares as a preferred alternative. For instance, Weems & Plath’s SOS Distress Light is the only electronic flare currently approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Reliability and compliance with the highest safety standards are paramount in the professional realm, and electronic flares meet these needs without compromising functionality.

Advantages and Considerations

When considering distress signaling devices for your maritime safety kit, electronic flares present a progressive alternative to traditional pyrotechnic options. This section will guide you through the benefits and operational limitations of electronic flares to ensure you make an informed decision.

Benefits of Electronic Flares

Electronic flares offer significant advantages over traditional pyrotechnic flares. One of the key benefits is visibility; some models are visible for up to 10 miles, and they are capable of emitting an SOS signal that’s universally recognized.

Unlike pyrotechnic flares, electronic flares are designed to be waterproof and buoyant, making them suitable for both salt water and freshwater boat operations.

They also boast an extended operational lifespan, with uses spanning multiple emergencies, and as a one-time purchase, they present a cost-effective and environmentally friendly option.

  • Battery Life: With batteries that are replaceable, you can check and maintain your device easily.
  • Safety: There’s no risk of burns, making electronic flares safe enough even for children to handle.
  • Legality: They comply with regulations, as certain models of electronic flares are approved by organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard.

Operational Limitations

While electronic flares are innovative, they do have some limitations to consider. For one, they rely on batteries, which require regular testing and replacement to ensure readiness in an emergency.

It’s essential to understand that not all electronic flares meet the regulatory requirements as a sole signaling device, and some may need to be used in conjunction with other devices, like a visual distress signal flag.

Buoyancy: While most are designed to float, it’s crucial to confirm that your selected model is indeed buoyant, especially if you’re operating in challenging marine environments.

Regulatory Compliance: Always verify that the electronic flare you choose is compliant with the regulations of your boating area, as requirements can vary.

Frequently Asked

The USCG requires that all boats operating on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and those directly connected to such waters up to a point where a body of water is less than two miles wide must be equipped with USCG-approved visual distress signals (VDS). Electronic flares are an accepted alternative to traditional pyrotechnic flares if they meet USCG requirements, which include being visible for at least 10 nautical miles, having automatic SOS functions, and not relying on connectivity to external devices.

Yes, you may legally use LED flares instead of pyrotechnic flares if they meet USCG requirements for visual distress signals. They must be labeled as meeting the standards for brightness, feature a flashing SOS signal, and be visible for a significant distance.

Electronic flares offer several advantages. They are non-expiring, reducing the need for frequent replacements and the hassle of disposal. They also tend to be safer, as there is no risk of burns or fires that can be associated with pyrotechnic flares. Moreover, electronic flares are reusable, waterproof, and often feature a longer signal duration compared to the short-lived bursts of traditional flares.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.