Time to dump your flares?
Personally, I find having flares on board reassuring. They don’t rely on the boat’s electricity supply or batteries that run down. They are reasonably easy to operate and are a great visual guide, particularly at night, to the location of the vessel in distress. Parachute flares can be seen from up to 25 miles away, red handheld flares from three to five miles in good conditions.
BUT – there is no doubt that if, today, a distress alerting system which relied on the use of high explosives in plastic containers, often held in the hand and operated by someone who has never used one before, at night and on a heaving deck was proposed, it would be laughed out of court. Every year there are tragic accidents and it’s not always yachtsmen using long out of date flares. Silly mistakes like holding them upside down, dropping them and pointing them in the wrong direction cause many horrendous injuries.
Until comparatively recently there was no real alternative to carrying flares to cover all possible emergencies. Recent developments in personal EPIRBS and AIS sets, the cost of which is falling all the time and the introduction of LED flares really cover all the bases previously served by flares.
In terms of cost, any boat equipped for coastal or offshore sailing should have a fixed VHF and as handheld (ideally waterproof and floating) so this can be discounted; set of personal position locating beacons will be quite expensive but they have a far longer life than flares and can be much more effective in attracting the right sort of response in the right length of time.
Flares require careful handling and careful storage and, once out of date, are currently next to impossible to dispose of. Probably the only thing keeping flares in the game is the requirement of many racing organisations that they should be carried by yachts competing under their regulations. There are also parts of the world where radio coverage is by no means as good as it is in northern Europe
I have had a full set of electronic position finding kit, both ship and personal for several years. I will continue to carry flares for as long as my current set are in date. After that… well I think it’s time to say goodbye.
As a PS I would add, whichever way to decide to go, please make sure you include operating training as part of your crew briefing.
[Read the RYA's view at https://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/e-newsletters/inbrief/Pages/Pyrotechnic-Flares-past-their-sell-by-date-.aspx ]