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Southern Spars

Five Marine Flare Steps for Sailing Safety

by Captain John Jamieson on 8 Dec 2012
Red flares generate enormous heat and light - do you know how to use them safely? © John Curnow
Are you sure you know how to use a flare gun, flare launcher, flare smoke, or flare parachute? You need to be familiar with all of these vital tools--before an emergency happens. You won't have time then!

Blinding rain or squall, howling wind, heavy seas, and smoke filled compartments. If you've been in a situation like this, you know these are not ideal conditions. But if an emergency at sea ever strikes, that's when you will often be faced with the tough stuff and knowing how to handle your emergency signals without fumbling could save your life.


The most famous sea tragedy of all, caused by lax safety standards

At 2:20 am, Monday, April 15th, 1912, the Titanic slid beneath the waves of the Atlantic, leaving her passengers and crew fighting for their lives in 31°F (-1°C) water. Most died from drowning--not hypothermia. Survival in water that cold averages between 15 to 20 minutes.

If the right safety equipment had been aboard, none of this would have happened. Matter of fact, those passengers and crew have over two hours to make preparations and abandon the ship, but were unable to do so because of the lax standards in the shipping industry at that time. But it was to be nevermore...


Out of great tragedy often comes a great awakening. An international committee was formed to study the tragedy and come up with new safety standards. Safety equipment was beefed up and no ship sailed without enough lifeboats for her passengers and crew. This committee went by the name of Safety Of Life At Sea.


Why Choose SOLAS Marine Flares?

Today, SOLAS equipment is recognized throughout the maritime world as the finest, most reliable that money can buy. No racing sailboat can sail offshore without SOLAS equipment aboard. From flares to launchers to liferafts to liferaft equipment. If you want the best of the best, insist on SOLAS certified equipment.


Oh sure, you can go to any marine store and purchase the standard CG approved flares. And they are fine to use in protected waters. SOLAS flares are about 2 to 3 times as expensive. But SOLAS flares are brighter, shoot higher and can be seen much farther away.

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 nighttime.


Five Steps to Fire Any Marine Flare:

Practice and train you crew in the use of emergency flares. That way, if you become incapacitated, they will know what to do. Follow these five simple steps:

1. Put your back to the wind. Move to the edge of the boat. Make sure to brace yourself as the vessel pitches and rolls.

2. Read the instructions to open the marine flare. Don't assume you just take off a cap and ignite it. With some flares, you 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 eye protection. Common eye or sunglasses meet this requirement. If the wind shifts, you'll be glad you did.

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.

If the handheld flare, flare parachute, or flare gun shell fails to ignite, do not make a second attempt. Drop the flare or shell case into the water.

None of us ever hopes to have to use our marine flares. Make sure you and your crew understands these five critical survival steps in an emergency--wherever in the world you choose to sail!

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com. Sign up for his highly popular 'Sailing Tip of the Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, e-Books and more!

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