Marine Flares: Your Lifesaving Solution On The Water

Boat Flares are just one category of approved marine visual distress signals (VDS). Types of VDS devices include pyrotechnic flares, non-pyrotechnic flares, electric lights, smoke canisters, and distress flags.

Distress Signals are essential to sea safety. Required by law for some recreational boats, distress signals or distress calls are an internationally recognized means to indicate that you require immediate assistance.

At a Glance:

1️⃣ No VDS is ideal for all situations; each type has advantages and disadvantages. Some are only useful during the day, while others shine (literally) at night.

2️⃣ The different types of flares, each with their common features, include floating flares, handheld flares, and aerial flares (including meteor and parachute flares.)

3️⃣ The conditions under which the device is to be used must be one of the factors that will inform your choice.

4️⃣ Flares must be certified by the United States Coast Guard and be simple to use.

🎯 Choosing The Best Marine Flares

The factors to consider when purchasing marine flares are listed below.

Under What Circumstances May The Flare Be Used

Factors that affect this decision include the following:

  1. Is most of the boating conducted during the day or night?
  2. How far offshore will the boat be used?
  3. Is the boat strictly used in fair weather or rough sea states with lots of wind?
  4. Is the boat equipped with a marine radio and/or EPIRB? If this is positive, the flare may be needed for location purposes rather than to get someone’s attention.

How Easy Is The Flare To Use?

In an emergency, you do not want to be working out how to use a complex flare system. This means the flare should be easy, logical, and labeled clearly so an untrained person can activate it.

Understand The Regulations

Ensure the number and type of flares chosen meets the boat flare requirements of the US Coast Guard (and when at sea, also the requirements of safety of lives at sea protocols).

The requirements of part 175.110 of the US Coast Guard regulations stipulate the following requirement:

  1. A boat less than 16 feet (4,8 meters) long is only required to carry signaling equipment if it is operated outside of daylight hours.
  2. A boat with a length greater than 16 feet is required to have a variety of optional distress signal combinations.

You can choose a combination of flares if you require it. The following combination of flares satisfies the legal requirements.

CombinationFlares/Signals/ LightsCountApplicable Time
OneHandheld flare3Day/Night
TwoElectric distress light1After Sundown
ThreeHandheld flare (red)1Day/Night
Parachute flares2Day/Night
FourHandheld smoke signal (orange)1Day/Night
Floating smoke signals (orange)2Daytime
Electric distress light1Nighttime

Expiration Dates

To ensure value for money, the expiration dates of the devices should be 42 months in the future. If they have expired, then you should know how to properly dispose of them.

Available Budget

While you do not generally want to economize on safety equipment, shop around and check out different brands of flare to get the best deal.

Before purchasing the item, check for reviews and ensure it works as advertised. Learning that it doesn’t while at sea and you’re handling an emergency defeats the purpose of the flares.

Recommended Brands And Models Of Marine Flares 

The following flare products meet the requirements listed above:

Orion Safety 901, Handheld Red Flare Signal

The product specifications are listed below.

✔️ Approved for day and night use by the United States Coast Guard.
✔️ Endorsed by SOLAS
✔️ It burns for three minutes.
✔️ Certified brightness of up to 700 candelas. 

Product price – $23,00.

Orion Safety 865, Locator Marine Handheld Red Flare

The product specifications are listed below.

✔️ Approved for day and night use by the United States Coast Guard.
✔️ Endorsed by SOLAS
✔️ It burns for three minutes.
✔️ Certified brightness of up to 700 candelas. 

Product Price – $43,00

Pains Wessex SOLAS Red Handheld Mk8 Flare

The product specifications are listed below.

✔️ The device is approved by SOLAS and the United States Coast Guard.
✔️ The Red Flare is intended to display the location of the person firing it.
✔️ One-minute burn time.
✔️ Certified brightness of 15,000 candelas.
✔️ It weighs 10 ounces and measures 5/8 inches by 1 3/8 inches
✔️ Can be activated and held up without molten slag dripping down the user’s arm.

Product Price – $16.95

SOLAS Orange Lifesmoke Mk9 Flare Canister

The Mk9 Flare Canister are listed below.

✔️ It will burn for three (3) minutes.
✔️ Produces a thick smoke that makes it ideal to use during the daytime.
✔️ It has clearly marked instructions and is safe to use.
✔️ Although it is intended to mark the position, it also can be used to indicate wind direction.

Product Price – $49.95

Orion Safety Combo Alerter Coastal Signaling Kit

The flare gun specifications are listed below.

✔️ The United States Coast Guard approves the device for day and nighttime use.
✔️ It is Corrosion resistant.
✔️ It fires the flare to 500 feet.
✔️ The flares have a brightness of 16,000 candelas.
✔️ Burns for 7 seconds.
✔️ The product dimensions are 1 ¼ inches x 7 inches x 12 ¼ inches.

The package includes the following items:

  1. A 12-Gauge Safety Launcher.
  2. A bandolier that is able to hold six Signal flares and four 12-Gauge Red Aerial Signals.

Product Price – US$97.00

ACR ResQFlare E-Flare

The electric flare specifications are listed below.

✔️ This Operational Life of the unit is 20 hours.
✔️ Approved by the United States Coast Guard.
✔️ Maintains a peak fixed intensity of 75 cd for 20 hours.
✔️ Provides a bright light that has 360° visibility.
✔️ Certified in terms of USCG 161.013 for use as a Nighttime Visual Distress Signal.
✔️ Will stay afloat and self-righting (bottom-heavy).
✔️ Visible over 6 miles at night
✔️ The packaging Includes a certified Distress Flag.
✔️ Uses C-Cell Alkaline Batteries.

Product price – $109.99

🫙 How To Properly Store Marine Flares

🎓: Tips for storing flares can be found in the following article entitled Where Should Distress Flares Be Stored?

How To Properly Use Marine Flares

To use the flares, follow what steps to take listed below.

  1. Only use the location flares when the rescue boat or aircraft is within visual range.
  2. Fire two of the aerial flares quickly to allow the rescuers to validate the sighting and confirm the location.
  3. If the rescuers are approaching in a boat, they will be able to see you when they are between 3 to 5 miles away.
  4. A rescuer that is five miles away will take ¼ of an hour to reach you (traveling at 20 miles per hour.)
  5. Only activate handheld flares once you know they are close enough to see them and you have sufficient flares and burn time available to use them continuously until they arrive.
  6. Irrespective of the legal requirements, we recommend that you have six handheld flares with a three-minute burn time.

🗝️ Key Takeaways

1️⃣ Marine flares, a vital category of marine visual distress signals (VDS), come in various types, including floating, handheld, and aerial flares.

2️⃣ Each type has unique advantages and disadvantages, making it crucial to understand which is best suited for specific situations.

3️⃣ It’s essential to ensure that the chosen flares meet the requirements of the US Coast Guard, adhering to the necessary regulations.

❓ FAQs

What are some safety precautions to consider when handling marine flares?

It’s crucial to handle marine flares with care. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, avoid pointing flares at yourself or others, and ensure you’re in a safe and open area when deploying flares.

How can I maintain the effectiveness of my marine flares over time?

Marine flares should be stored in a dry, cool place to prevent damage. Regularly check the expiration dates and replace any expired flares to ensure they work when needed.

Are there any environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional marine flares?

Some products on the market, such as LED flares, are reusable and don’t produce the same waste as traditional flares. Always ensure any alternative meets the necessary safety standards and regulations.

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.