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Flares


Let's take a moment to review everything you need to know about distress flares! The following information was compiled from Transport Canada and flare manufacturer Orion.

About Flares

Use flares only in times of real distress. Before purchasing, make sure they are approved by Transport Canada. There are four types of approved pyrotechnics: A, B, C and D.

Aerial flares should be fired at an angle into the wind. With a high wind velocity, lower the angle to a maximum of 45 degrees. Pyrotechnics are valid only for four years from the date of manufacture, stamped on each flare. To dispose of your outdated flares, seek advice from your local fire department, law enforcement agency or Transport Canada Centre.

Store flares vertically in a cool, dry location (such as a watertight container) to help them retain their efficiency, but keep them accessible in case of an emergency.

Rocket Parachute Flares (Type A)

  • Ignition and the rocket are contained in a waterproof casing.
  • Launching rocket ignites flare and projects parachute with flare.
  • Reaches maximum height of 300 metres.
  • Flare burns bright red for at least 40 seconds.
  • Parachute deploys between 200 and 300 metres.
  • Visibility up to 20 nautical miles.
  • Used to alert rescuers who may be a long distance away – possibly over the horizon.

Multi-Star Flares (Type B)

  • Produces two or more bright red stars in rapid succession (maximum 15 seconds).
  • Reaches maximum height of 100 metres.
  • Each star burns for at least 4 seconds.
  • Automatic or cartridge firing device.
  • If cartridge, the package may instruct users to fire two signals within 15 seconds of each other.
  • Firing device and the cartridges, if any, should be waterproof and packed in a waterproof container.
  • Visibility up to 12 nautical miles.
  • Used to alert rescuers who may be a long distance away.

Hand Flares (Type C)

  • Hand-held red flare.
  • Burns for at least 1 minute.
  • Sheathed to prevent drips of burning material.
  • Limited surface visibility – used to alert rescuers who are within a few nautical miles.
  • Contained in a waterproof case.

Smoke Signal (Type D)

  • Can be either hand-held or buoyant.
  • Buoyant signal gives off a dense orange-coloured smoke for at least 3 minutes when floating in calm water.
  • Hand-held gives off a dense orange-coloured smoke for a period of at least 1 minute.
  • Mechanically ignited.
  • The buoyant type is effective when afloat in moderate seas.
  • Used as a day signal only.
  • Contained in a waterproof case.

Principles of Signaling

The purpose of distress signaling is: first to attract attention and second, to provide a homing signal to guide the responding party to your craft. Remember, nothing can happen until someone's attention is attracted. The most effective distress signals for attracting attention are aerial flares and parachute flares because they are moving, spectacular and cover a large sighting area. Once help is on the way, handheld red signal flares, orange smoke signals and orange distress flags serve as beacons helping rescuers to pinpoint your position and keep them on course.

Aerial Signals
Aerial flares should be fired after sighting or hearing a potential rescue vessel. To attract attention to your distress situation the U.S. Coast Guard recommends that you fire 2 aerial flares, one immediately after the other, so rescuers can confirm the sighting and the direction of the signal. Parachute flares do not need to be fired in twos since a single parachute flare has adequate burn time(25 to 30 seconds) to confirm sighting and position.

Hand-Held Signals
Hand-held signal flares are intended as homing signals to pinpoint your position. Surface to surface sighting range on water is approximately 3 to 5 miles, depending on boat elevation. If a rescuer is 5 miles away and running at 20 miles per hour, it will take 15 minutes to reach you. Therefore, you should have at least 12 minutes (total burn time) of signals onboard to maintain a strong homing signal until help arrives.

When to Signal

Aerial flares, and other "one-time" signals, should be fired only after sighting or hearing a potential rescuer. Experts recommend that once an aircraft has been sighted, one flare should be fired, then a second flare fired immediately after the first to let search teams confirm the sighting and direction of the signal. Remember, search and rescue missions often establish grid search patterns, which means you may see the same aircraft 2 to 3 times coming from different directions. Do not waste aerial flares if the aircraft has initially passed by you. Carrying extra pyrotechnic signals will improve your chances of being sighted.

4 Rules of Signaling

  1. Conserve your signals until you are reasonably sure of being sighted. Wait until you see or hear a vessel or aircraft before using "one-time" signals.
  2. Stay with the boat if it is safe to do so. A boat is easier to spot than a swimmer.
  3. U.S. Coast Guard approved marine signals improve your chances, but anything that works is good. USE COMMON SENSE! Shout, flash your running lights, wave a piece of clothing, use your windshield as a mirror, flash a flashlight, ANYTHING that's available to attract attention. Above all, DON'T PANIC!
  4. Familiarize yourself with your signals before you leave shore. Time is important in any emergency and shouldn't be spent reading instructions.

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