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Sailing Safety Tips – How to Use Emergency Marine Flares

From the desk of sailing whitsudays

Learn to sail like a pro when you understand how to use marine flares for sailing safety. Imagine that you are out sailing and discover water flooding into your boat. Within minutes, your batteries are covered by water–and your VHF radio dies. Now you have no electronic communications. But, you do have flares aboard. Follow these easy sailing tips to discover how to use hand held flares or launchers in an emergency at sea!


Alert and Locator Flares
Flares can be hand-held or launcher type. With hand-held flares, you use a striker to ignite the tip end of the flare. You hold the ignited flare at an angle away from your body. Launcher-type flares are projected into the air from a tube or pistol-shaped launcher.


Alert Flares
Use launcher-type flares, such as meteor parachutes and shell projectiles to alert others that you need assistance. Because launcher-type flares go high up into the sky (more on this later), they can be seen at great distances. Fire launchers in pairs. Fire the first launcher flare and wait a few minutes. Then, fire a second launcher flare.
The first launcher will often be seen in the peripheral (side) vision of a person. So, this first flare gets their attention. But, they may also believe that what they saw was a shooting star or something similar. And that’s why you fire the second flare a short time later. This second flare confirms that indeed–a distress situation exists. Now, your rescuer can start moving toward you and request help from other vessels or aircraft.


Locator Flares
Hand held flares should be used when you see the rescuer, or believe that the rescuer can visually see you. These flares help the rescuer locate, or “home in” on your position. Wait to use hand held flares until you believe there’s a good chance of being seen by rescuers nearby. You must conserve these flares so that you do not run out of hand-held flares before you are rescued.


The #1 Choice that Could Save Your Life
Choose SOLAS flares if you want the best of the best. SOLAS or Safety Of Life At Sea was a convention formed in 1914 soon after the Titanic tragedy. This committee met to specify lifesaving equipment that needed to be carried aboard ships (lifeboats, liferafts and survival gear). Over time, more and more equipment has been added and created for smaller vessels. Today, SOLAS certified equipment must be aboard offshore racing sailboats sailing at sea. And cruising sailors carry SOLAS certified flares, liferafts, and safety equipment because they know its top-of-the-line.
Insist on SOLAS certified equipment. It may cost more, but SOLAS certified flares are 30 to 50 times brighter, can shoot up to 1000 feet in the air, and can be seen for up to 41 miles. All flares come with illustrated instructions on the flare body. SOLAS flares are easier to follow and much easier to see in tough conditions of smoke, rain, fog, or at nighttime.


Five Steps to Fire Any Marine Flare Like a Pro
Practice and train your crew in the use of emergency flares. That way, your crew will know what to do in case you become incapacitated! Follow these five simple steps:

  1. Put your back to the wind. Move to the edge of the boat. Brace yourself as the vessel pitches and rolls.
  2. Follow the instructions to open the marine flare. Never, ever assume that you just take off a cap and ignite it. With some flares, you must remove one cap; others require that you remove both caps.
    If you use a flare gun, flare pistol, or flare launcher, learn how to load it before an emergency strikes. Some flare gun shells load from the inside of the barrel and others from the outside. Read the manufacturer’s instructions first.
  3. Wear protection. You must protect your eyes at all costs. If the wind changes direction, hot flare slag could blow back toward you. Wear common eye or sunglasses. Keep a pair of heat-resistant gloves handy, because SOLAS flares can get quite warm.
  4. Hold a handheld or parachute flare in your non-dominant hand. Hold a flare gun in your dominant hand. Make a straight arm and hold your arm up at a 45 degree angle. With handheld marine flares, cock your wrist to slant it away from you. These flares drip melted element–called slag–as they burn. You want hot slag going into the water–not onto your hand!
  5. Look to one side. Do not watch the flare, flare gun, or parachute when you ignite it. This gives extra protection for your eyes. Drop the expended flare body or shell case into the water.
    WARNING!:If the handheld flare, flare parachute, or flare gun shell fails to ignite, do not make a second attempt to fire it. Drop the flare or shell case into the water.
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    Learn to sail with confidence when you have the skills to handle an emergency at sea. Prepare yourself and your crew now with these five safety steps so that you will be ready if the unexpected comes your way–wherever in the world you choose to sail!

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