All boats registered in the US must carry at least three flares for use in an emergency. Unfortunately, flares expire after 48 months, and at this point, the boater is left in an impossible position trying to get rid of them, but with no procedure to do so.
Disposing old flares is a serious issue for which there is no ready answer. Some states, such as Maine, have instituted legislation to collect and destroy old flares in a mobile incinerator; however, the passage of these bills has been slowed by the COVID pandemic.
This article highlights the incorrect ways of expired flare disposal and looks at acceptable alternatives to handling this issue.
🚮 The Method Of Disposing Of Marine Flares
There is no statutory method of disposing of marine emergency flares.
These flares are considered hazardous waste. Because they are pyrotechnic devices, the regulations require them to be treated as explosives.
❌ What Are The Wrong Ways To Dispose Of Expired Marine Flares?
There would seem to be several ways for old flares to be disposed of properly; however, most of these are incorrect, as listed below.
Donate The Flares To The US Coast Guard
Donating yours to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron for use in their training classes seems to be a sensible option. Unfortunately, neither the US Coast Guard Auxiliary nor Power Squadron is allowed to accept expired flares.
Leave The Marine Flares At A Police Or Fire Station
Neither the police nor the fire station will accept being left with them because they have no acceptable disposal method.
Throw The Old Marine Flares In A Dumpster
There have been instances where a boater looked at their flares as mere trash and threw them in a dumpster. And being unstable, they have started large fires.
This is not an acceptable method.
Return The Expired Flare To The Manufacturer
Retailers and manufacturers will not accept flares past the expiration date being returned to them.
Dispose of The Old Marine Flares In Water
There are two problems with this method:
- The flare canisters are waterproof.
- They contain perchlorate, an environmentally unfriendly carcinogenic chemical suspected of causing endocrine and reproductive problems.
Fire The Expired Marine Flares Off As A Celebration
The USCG takes a dim view of anyone who sets a flare off for any reason but an emergency.
In the past, they have successfully instituted civil suits against people who discharged a flare without a valid emergency.
✅ What Is The Correct Way To Dispose Of Expired Marine Flares?
There are very few options to dispose of flares safely and legally.
In Florida, the Sea Tow Foundation recommends the following:
- That the boater contacts their local household hazardous waste management facility and finds out if they will accept old flares.
- The boater contacts the state boating law agency and asks them for advice.
- Find out of the local fire department can accept them (very unlikely.)
What Is The Solution?
The USCG has approved specific “non-pyrotechnic” LED visual distress signal devices as replacements for the three pyrotechnic devices required on eligible boats.
The approved device is the Sirius C-1002 SOS Two-Color LED Electronic Visual Distress Signal.
- Removes the need for nighttime pyrotechnic flares
- Two color SOS combination flash
- Fully submersible
- Removes dangerous flare handling
- Not as visible as parachute rocket flares
- Dependance on batteries
While this is a workable compromise at night, a non-pyrotechnic device may be less effective at attracting attention during daylight hours.
Do Marine Flares Really Expire?
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 the current ones in stock to prevent confusion during an emergency. Instead, they should be stored and marked in a separate container.
Do Expired Marine Flares Still Work?
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.
🗣 Final Words
The boating community is placed in an unenviable position. On the one hand, boats longer than 16 feet are required to carry flares, yet there is no agreed disposal method when these expire.
To overcome this problem and to prevent the need to stockpile all of your old flares in a basement or garage, it is recommended that you switch to an approved LED signaling system.
We also recommend that you constantly watch any legislative changes in your county, which may make disposal easier.
Next, I’d recommend reading up on the correct procedure to handle your existing hand-held flares safely.