Where Should Distress Flares Be Stored? 

Flares should be an essential safety item carried on a boat. Even if the boat is not legally required to carry flares, it is good practice to do so.

Notifying surrounding boats that an emergency is being experienced may be the difference between a good or bad outcome. 

Key Takeaways:

1️⃣ The safety protocols defined by SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea), of which the United States is a signatory, and the United States Coast Guard, require a specific number of flares to be carried in different-sized vessels.

2️⃣ Even if a vessel is not required to carry flares, it is good practice to do so as it enables help to be summonsed if needed.

3️⃣ To carry the flares safely, a secure and easily accessible location should be identified on the boat.

4️⃣ All flares must be under 3 ½ years (42 months) old.

🏆 Best Practices For Storing Distress Flares

Two factors should be considered when Storing Distress Flares:

  1. Safety considerations

  2. Accessibility in an emergency

Safety Considerations

If pyrotechnic flares are carried on board, they should be stored in an environment that does not compromise them. Although flares are classified as flammable, they are generally safe and remain stable to be stored on a vessel.

The place where the flares are stored should meet the following requirements.

1️⃣ The flares should be away from all heat sources 

2️⃣ They should be kept away from flammable liquids.

3️⃣ They should not be stored near fuel tanks. 

4️⃣ Should be stored in a cool and dry place (The conventionally accepted storage temperatures are between 40oF and 90oF.) 

5️⃣ The flares should be secured to ensure they do not rattle around in a canister that is not padded.

6️⃣ The flares should be kept dry and away from dampness.

7️⃣ It should be in a waterproof area (a watertight container marked with your boat’s registration number is ideal.)

8️⃣ If the flares are exposed to water, they should never be for more than 10 minutes.

The benefit of storing flares in a watertight container is that they can be easily transferred to a lifeboat or raft during an emergency.

Accessibility In An Emergency

The flares should be easily accessible during an emergency. This means they should be kept close at hand and easily found in the dark.

The different types of flares should be clearly demarcated and easy to select.

🫙 Types Of Storage Options

The storage options for flares carried on board the vessel are as follows:

Onboard The Vessel

As discussed earlier, all pyrotechnic flares should be stored in a clean, cool, and dry environment that is not subject to rattling around.

In A Survival Kit

It is a sensible precaution to carry main flares in a ditch bag (go or sink bag) containing all the survival gear the boater has selected to carry off the boat in an emergency.

These bags should have warm and dry clothing, food and water, and emergency locators, including flares.

The flares should be kept in a separate pouch or on top of the carried items so that they can be easily accessed.

👨‍⚖️ Legal Requirements For Storing Distress Flares

Two bodies control the carriage of flare requirements of boats.

The US Coast Guard

There are two parts of the US Coast Guard regulations regarding the carriage and storage of flares in a boat. These are listed below.

Document partSection title
Title 33Navigation And Navigable Waters
Chapter ICoast Guard, Department Of Homeland Security (Continued)
Subchapter SBoating Safety
Part 175Equipment Requirements

Storage Requirements

The only storage regulations dictated by the US Coast Guard are as follows:

Part 175.120 Stowage. No person may use a boat unless the visual distress signals required by part 175.110 are readily accessible.

The Number Of Flares That Must Be Carried In A Boat

The requirements of part 175.110 are as follows:

  • A boat under 16 feet (4,8 meters) must only carry signaling equipment if it is operated at night.

  • A boat over 16 feet is required to carry visual distress signals of various combinations. 

To meet the requirements of boats for boats of more than 20 feet in length, the following combination of flares satisfies the regulations.

Option One

Three flares are designed to be hand-held for vessels operated during night and day.

Option Two

Vessels that operate at night can use a single electric distress light.

Option Three

The third option for boats that are operated day and night is:

  • A single hand-held red flare

  • Two parachute flares 

Option Four

The fourth option for boats that are operated day and night is:

  • A single hand-held orange smoke signal

  • Two orange smoke signals float in daylight hours.

  • Single electric distress for nighttime.

📖 Read Next:
Visual distress signal for night use
Visual distress signals for daylight use

The International Regulations 

The international safety of lives at sea protocol, of which the US is a signatory, has different requirements based on the boat’s length.

  • A boat that is more than 16 feet (4,8 meters) and less than 20 feet (6 meters) must carry 3 pyrotechnic distress flares (this figure does not include smoke signals).

  • A boat between 20 feet (6 meters) and 30 feet (9 meters) must carry 6 flares (this figure does not include smoke signals).

  • A boat between 30 feet (9 meters) and 40 feet (12 meters) must carry 12 flares (no more than six can be smoke signals.

  • A boat over 40 feet (12 meters) must carry 12 flares (no more than six can be smoke signals.)

🔑 Key Takeaways

Whether or not they are legally required, flares should be considered essential safety equipment to carry on a boat.

The only government regulation related to the storage of flares is that they must be easy to access.

They are not considered at risk of spontaneously combusting; however, storing them correctly ensures they are kept in good order and ready for use when they are needed.

It’s a good idea to keep an on the date of manufacture, so you don’t carry expired flares. If they are, then disposing of your marine flares is your next step. 

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.