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How to Safely Launch Marine Distress Signals and Flares

angela pluff from cannons marina
Angela Pluff demonstrates the Arial Alerter flare gun for Cannons Marina

We asked our very own Angela Pluff how to give us the scoop on how to safely launch marine distress signals and flares. Here’s what she had to say:
First of all, what is a flare and why do you need them? Well, when you’re out in a boat, using a flare signifies that you are in distress or you need assistance, like, let’s say your watercraft is taking on water or your motor fizzles out. Bottom line, when you’re stranded, using a flare can save your life. This is how you can let other boaters and the Coast Guard know that you’re in trouble and need help.
There are several different kind of signals – Arial, Handheld and Smoke signals – so what kind of signals and flares should you carry on your boat? The Coast Guard requires that you have to carry a minimum of three Coast Guard-approved signals, but they suggest that you carry more with you, depending what kind of boater you are.
If you are an Inland boater, where you seldom leave sight of land, it is recommended that you have four aerial signals, four handheld signals and one smoke signal.
If you are a Coastal Boater, which means, you travel offshore occasionally but you do not travel overnight, you should carry six aerial signals, six handheld signals and two smoke signals.
If you are an Offshore boater, you travel offshore, out of sight of land for extended periods of time, you should carry six aerials, eight handhelds and two smoke signals.
You can see a detailed chart of what you need on the back of the Orion 12-Gauge launcher package that we sell in our ship’s store at Cannons Marina.
Some things you’ll want to note when dealing with flares: Flares are a form of pyrotechnic, they are extremely flammable so you need to be careful with these and keep them away from children. They also need to be stored in a safe, dry area of your boat.
-All of the flares have expiration dates, and need to be replaced every three years. So, make sure you check this. If you don’t have any flares or if your flares are expired, you can get fined $1100 during a routine Coast Guard check.
So, now I’m going to go over some of the specific Coast-Guard approved flares by Orion that we carry at Cannons. Some flares are appropriate for daytime use, some for nighttime and some can be used for both.

Aerial Signal

The Orion Alerter Basic in a package of four is Coast Guard approved for the Red Aerial signal. We sell this one in our ship’s store at Cannons Marina.
The steps are listed on the back of the package, but to launch an aerial signal, here is what you do:
1) It’s most effective to fire only after you have sighted a potential rescue vessel.
2) You break open the launcher barrel, insert the ORION flare and close the launcher.
3) You hold the launcher above eye level – obviously, you don’t want to point it towards you – point it straight up, cock hammer and squeeze trigger. Then you want to repeat with a second one, immediately after.
These signals go up to 500 feet and burn for up to 7 seconds. They can be used in the day or nighttime.

Handheld Signal

We sell the Orion Locate handheld signal pack of four. These is are coast-guard approved for day or nighttime signal.
Make sure you check the expiration date. OK, so now we remove the black lid on the red cap, Twist red cap, remove and save, because you’re gonna need that to actually light it. Grasp bottom of flare firmly below holding line on label. Point away from your face and body. Aim downwind. For the most effective use, ignite after you see a potential rescue vessel. Strike igniter button on top off flare with abrasive surface of red cap. Hold burning flare over side of boat and aim downwind. Do not wave the signal over your head!
These burn for three minutes and their brightness is up to 700 candela – the aerial signals were 16,000, so these are not quite as bright, but they burn longer. The aerial signals only burn for seven seconds and these burn for three minutes. So, it’s best to use both!

Orange Smoke Hand-Held Marine Signal

When using an Orion Orange Smoke Hand-Held Marine Signal, first, make sure to check┬áthe expiration date that’s on the back of the package.
The smoke signals are only to be used during the day. These are different from a Flare because they don’t light up, they produce an orange smoke that can be seen from five miles away, so it can only be used during the day.
So there is your demonstration of how to use marine signals and flares. Make sure you store your flares in a dry, waterproof container and always remember to check your expiration dates. Happy and safe boating from Cannons Marina!