How To Dispose Of Marine Flares?

Disposing of marine flares requires a careful approach because they cannot be thrown in the trash or incinerated in a non-approved facility.

The chemicals within flares, particularly perchlorates, are harmful to the environment and can pose health risks, including the potential to cause cancer.

It’s important to find an authorized facility to incinerate expired flares, ensuring that disposal is carried out per federal and state regulations.

Some regions offer organized collection events as part of their Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) programs, providing a convenient way for you to dispose of your expired flares safely.

Having expired marine flares aboard your vessel can not only be ineffective in an emergency but also non-compliant with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

Safe Disposal Practices

The boating community is placed in an unenviable position. On the one hand, boats over 16 feet are required to carry flares, yet there is no agreed disposal method when these expire.

Life Span and Expiration

Marine flares have a shelf life, typically valid for 42 months after the manufacture date. It’s important for you to regularly check the expiration date because expired flares can become unreliable. Keep a log of purchase dates and set reminders for when it’s time to replace them.

Disposal Options

There are very few options to dispose of flares safely and legally. Once expired, flares must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Options for proper disposal include participating in a Flare Disposal Program or contacting local authorities.

Your state boating law enforcement agency may accept flares or provide information on authorized disposal facilities. Never dispose of flares in household trash or waterways.

Hazards of Improper Disposal

Improper disposal of marine flares can lead to serious dangers, such as unintended fires or explosions since flares are classified as explosives.

Furthermore, flares contain chemicals that can contaminate the environment if not handled correctly. Here are all the ways you CANNOT dispose of them:

  1. Donating Flares to US Coast Guard: Donating expired flares to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron for training is not an option as they cannot accept them.
  2. Leaving at Police or Fire Stations: Police and fire stations do not accept marine flares because they lack proper disposal methods.
  3. Disposing in Dumpsters: Throwing old marine flares in dumpsters is highly discouraged due to their instability, which can cause large fires.
  4. Returning to Manufacturer: Retailers and manufacturers do not accept expired flares for return.
  5. Disposing in Water: This method is problematic because flare canisters are waterproof and contain perchlorate, a harmful chemical.
  6. Firing Flares for Celebration: Using expired flares for non-emergency purposes is illegal, and the US Coast Guard has pursued legal action against such misuse.

What Is The Solution?

The USCG has approved specific “non-pyrotechnic types of flares” LED visual distress signal devices to replace the three pyrotechnic devices required on eligible boats.

One example of an approved E-flare is the Sirius C-1002 SOS Two-Color LED Electronic Visual Distress Signal.

Sirius Signal C-1002 SOS Two-Color LED Electronic Visual Distress Signal

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While this is a workable compromise at night, a non-pyrotechnic device may be less effective at attracting attention during daylight hours.

Special Disposal Programs

Local Disposal Programs

Your local household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities can be a convenient drop-off point for expired marine flares.

These facilities have strict regulations and procedures designed to handle potentially dangerous items, including flares.

Contact your nearest HHW facility to ensure they accept marine flares. In some locations, your local fire department might also offer disposal services or advise on nearby facilities equipped to do so.

Pilot Disposal Programs

Organizations such as the Sea Tow Foundation have initiated Pilot Flare Disposal Programs, which can include the deployment of mobile incineration units specifically designed to safely incinerate expired flares.

These programs are established with the support of grants from organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard and provide an environmentally responsible way to dispose of old flares. Keep an eye out for announcements on new disposal programs that may be available in your area.

Legal Requirements

When you own and operate a vessel, you must abide by specific legal standards for the disposal of marine flares. Familiarize yourself with the regulations set by authoritative groups to ensure you’re compliant throughout the boating season, especially in US coastal waters.

Regulatory Bodies

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is the primary regulatory body that dictates the proper disposal of marine flares. As these devices are classified as hazardous materials, USCG regulations are in place to ensure safe and environmental handling of expired or unused flares.

VDS Regulations

When navigating in coastal waters, the Great Lakes, or the open sea beyond the sightline from shore, carrying flares is mandatory under Visual Distress Signal (VDS) regulations.

This rule applies to all vessels registered in the United States, which must be equipped with at least three flares for emergencies.

Flares have an average shelf life of 42 months and must be readily accessible and in usable condition.

Resources and Further Reading

Educational Websites

For in-depth guidance on the safe use of flares and insightful advice on disposal practices, you might find the Sea Tow Foundation an invaluable resource.

Their website offers information on the potential environmental hazards of improper flare disposal and suggests environmentally-friendly alternatives.

State-Specific Information

Each state may have different regulations and resources for disposing marine flares.

California Resources: The California Coastal Commission provides a factsheet covering the disposal of expired marine pyrotechnic flares, while California State Parks may offer additional guidelines for boaters in California.

Frequently Asked

They reach the end of life 42 months after the date of manufacture.

After the expiry date has been reached, they must be treated as unstable and, at best, should only be considered an unpredictable backup.

These flares should never be kept alongside those in stock to prevent confusion during an emergency. Instead, they should be stored and marked in a separate container.

Depending on their age, they will generally work. They must be considered unstable, and the burn rates may be unpredictable.

The problem with keeping old flares in the boat is that in an emergency, they could be confused as being new flares and be fired off with unpredictable results.

When a guaranteed result is needed, a failure could prove disastrous.

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.