Flares- All I need to know!^

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Paul Barrett
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Flares- All I need to know!^

Post by Paul Barrett » Thu Feb 03, 2011 8:38 am

On a big trip what flares should I carry ? How and when are the different types used ? Night and day, para-flares, orange smoke, hand held . I am a little confused. Where can i get instruction if i have never used one before ?

Any advice is well received
.
Paul

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Yakdiver
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!

Post by Yakdiver » Thu Feb 03, 2011 12:25 pm

I have a red MK 8 52900
orange MK 8 53920
day and night flare MK 8 55970
http://www.pwss.com/AllProduct.aspx
Name Richard
Point 65n Sea Cruiser
Ocean Prowler

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Jim
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!

Post by Jim » Thu Feb 03, 2011 1:21 pm

Firstly I will assume that flares are just one of your emergency communication systems, if not search for threads on VHF radio, EPIRB and also programme local coastguard station phone numbers into your mobile phone, you might be surprised how often it works around the coast.

All flares have pictorial instructions on the case so anybody should be able to use them. It is well worth looking at them before you need to use them though.

Broadly speaking there are 2 kinds of flare we are most interested in, some people are interested in 3.

1) Flares for signalling that you are in distress, i.e. raising the alarm. These flares need to be seen from as far away as possible by people not necessarily looking for them. The favourite is therefore a red parachute rocket flare, the rocket launches out of the tube (so make sure you point it away from you) to a great height before the parachute opens allowing the burning flare to float gently down, they burn for around 60 seconds. It is generally accepted that you should launch a second flare a minute or so after the first one burns out so anyone that caught aglimpse and was unsure if it was really a flare, will be able to confirm the sighting before calling for help. Parachute rockets are big and expensive, so a lot of people use miniflares instead. These also launch but to a lesser height with a shorter burn time, the big advantage is that you get 6 (or 8, I forget and I see them every week when I dry them out) in a compact rubber case with a launching device. You can therefore launch 2 in quick succession, and if there is no response after a while, you can launch 2 more, and so on. There used to be other variations like Very Pistols and such, but since these need a firearms license they are of no interest.

2) Pinpoint flares for helping rescuers home in on your position once the alarm has been raised. These constitute hand held red flares and hand held orange smoke devices. The smoke is for use by day and the flares by night (you can buy a day/night signal which has a flare at one end and a smoke at the other, triggered separately as required). Most people carry a couple of each, although it looks as though some of the laser flares might soon take over if they get suitable approvals. Other useful pinpoint devices are strobe lights, torches and even the good old whistle. Using directional antennae it is possible to triangulate the location of a VHF radio broadcast, so once rescue is near, just talking to the search craft/coastguard on the radio can help them locate you. Don't forget that flares burn very hot and may spit phosphorous so need to be held at arms length during the burn.

3) Flares to warn of imminent collision are white. Some people carry these in case other vessels are on course to run them down because they haven't been seen (well it is law for larger vessels to carry them), the idea being to fire them into the helms line of sight precipitating a crash stop and deployment of a lookout. Many of us feel we can out-manouevre most vessels and don't carry white flares.

A lot of people stick pretty much to what you would get in an inshore flare pack - 1 or 2 red parachute rockets for raising the alarm and 2 each red hand flare and orange hand smoke (or 2 day/night signals which provide the same) for pinpointing. The red parachutes are sometimes substituted by a pack of miniflares to reduce cost, bulk and weight.

You also need to know that you are not supposed to put flares in the ordinary post, which means you will usually have to collect them yourself. Also they have about a 3 year shelf life (expiry printed on the case) after which you have to return them to a designated centre (you local police station won't be equipped to store them) and buy new ones. Never let a flare off for test or practise purposes (or because it is out of date) unless you have been given explicit permission to do so by the coastguard, it seems some stations and/or lifeboat stations organise special days for practise firing flares find out about one of these rather than trying to do it yourself.

GrahamKing
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!

Post by GrahamKing » Thu Feb 03, 2011 1:46 pm

Paul, there are plenty of people on the forum better qualified than me to answer this, and since I started composing this a couple of them have stepped up. Nevertheless, for what it's worth:

Types of flares and when to use:
Any flare that burns with a red flame or emits orange smoke is a distress flare and may be used only when a vessel or person is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance. Flares of other colours exist, and are used for other purposes (for example, a white hand-held flare (a "steamer scarer") is sometimes used at night by small vessels to alert others to their presence).
Five types of distress flare are typically available to kayakers:
  • Red parachute flares. These are rocket-propelled devices that ascend to 300m and then deploy a parachute, burning for at least 40 seconds. Useful for raising the alarm.
  • Red handheld flares. Used to pinpoint your position on the surface. Can be used for raising the alarm, but range of visibility is more limited.
  • Orange smoke. Used in same situation as red handheld, but is preferred in daylight. Might also be requested by an air-sea rescue helicopter to indicate surface wind-strength/direction. Any handheld flare will get really hot and will therefore show up well on the FLIR equipment of the rescue services, day or night. The heat can also be a problem: hold them at an angle, downwind of your (and others') boat so the copious smoke and occasional drips of molten phosphorous don't damage people or kit.
  • Red mini-flares. Having seen a demonstration of these glorified party-poppers I no longer rely on them.
  • The night/day flare is a compact device with a red handheld flare at one end, and orange smoke at the other. The two ends are operated independently. The principal advantage is that it is small enough to fit in a buoyancy aid pocket (important if you get separated from your boat). The principal disadvantage is that neither end of the device burns for as long as the corresponding single-purpose flare in the list above.
To these five types may be added laser devices such as discussed in a recent thread, and dye markers or streamers that can increase your visibility from the air (after the alert has been raised).

All pyrotechnics have a limited lifetime, and responsible disposal of them is becoming more and more difficult. Bear this in mind before purchasing.
It is unlawful to discharge them other than in a distress situation. Apart from the risk of false alarms, it can be dangerous: in particular, parachute flares might still be burning when they reach the surface. The legal restriction means that you'll only get instruction and/or practice if you attend one of the demos that the Coastguard occasionally run (for example at paddling symposiums). Try to get to one of these if you can, as there are some surprises in store, for example the physical strength and dexterity required to operate a flare especially with cold hands, and the occasional ambiguity of the operating instructions.

Never discharge a flare in the vicinity of a rescue helicopter without the pilot's agreement (parachute flares and aircraft don't mix, and any flare can cause problems for crew wearing night-vision equipment).

As to what flares you should carry on a big trip, only you can decide. Typically one has to make compromises based on the space available aboard, and the other means available of raising the alarm (for example, PLB, VHF). Having said that, I often carry a full "coastal pack": 2 red para, 2 red handheld, and 2 orange smoke, with one handheld and one smoke stored easily-accessible in waterproof tubes on deck. Consider carrying a sufficient number that you can use them in pairs: "Hey Homer, I think I saw something strange out there." "Aw Marge, it was probably just one of them red lights..." "There it is again" "Uh-oh" ...

Paul Barrett
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!

Post by Paul Barrett » Thu Feb 03, 2011 3:23 pm

Thanks Gents great information.

Paul

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CaptainSensible
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!^

Post by CaptainSensible » Fri Feb 04, 2011 3:26 pm

It is probably an extreme example, but what about white parachute flares for illuminating a possible landing spot when you are paddling at night?

Do you think most people know the difference in use/meaning between one of those and the red ones?

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Jim
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!^

Post by Jim » Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:49 pm

CaptainSensible wrote:It is probably an extreme example, but what about white parachute flares for illuminating a possible landing spot when you are paddling at night?

Do you think most people know the difference in use/meaning between one of those and the red ones?
We used to see them over Salisbury plain, the main disadvantage I can see is that there is a chance the army might start shelling you, or the navy.... :)

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MikeB
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!^

Post by MikeB » Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:23 pm

The other minor disadvantage might be the cost - in the region of £1 per second. And then there's the destruction caused by the thing setting the heather on fire when it lands (still burning), but apart from that - - -

Mike.

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RescueFlares
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Re: Flares- All I need to know!^

Post by RescueFlares » Sat Feb 05, 2011 4:58 pm

The Coastguard stopped using flares for that purpose [illumination] a few years back, don't know if it was revoked:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... stead.html

and will the public know the difference from WHITE or RED the answer from the Flare demo's we used to do, before they were discontinued . is NO - they still reported the White Demo flares we used during Demo's.

As MikeB stated the marine flares are designed to land on Water, and could cause Fire if land on ground, but £20 pop ...buy a good torch!

Regards

Scott

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