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Boat Heaven - Boat Heaven

Don't rely entirely on your flares!

October 5th 2009 01:17
I have been teaching commercial boating students in sea rescue over the last five months.
Part of our practical demonstration is to let off hand held flares. Each student gets to let off one each of the red, orange smoke and rocket parachute style. These flares are donated to us by shipping companies or boaters renewing their flares. Most flares are just out of date by a month or so or are still in date by a month or so.

I was stunned by the number of flares that do not work. I could understand if the out of date flares didn't operate but there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to which ones will or will not go off. The flares have been given to us in good condition, still plastic wrapped in fact.

I would estimate around 20% of the flares do not operate at all. Of these the parachute rockets seem to fire then the parachute doesn't open and the flare plummets to the water where it burns for many minutes.

I guess it would not be fair to name companies whose flares are the biggest culprits as I have not done a "proper detailed analasys"" and I would get a slap on the wrist for that. Still it is not hard to guess as not many companies flares are sold in Australia and it is a big and reputable company.

We are told by the USL code or SOLAS the requirements of the number of flares to be carried by our vessels. To be sure you have what you require I could suggest that you double or even triple the number of flares you have. Imagine that you have a distress situation in progress and you have managed to get out a mayday, boarded a liferaft and let off your epirb and you can see searchers looking for you. Remember you are only letting off your flares to attract attention of rescuers who are in your vicinity. What happens when your flares don't work. You still have a heliograph but that is no good at night or if the sun is behind a cloud.

A 20% failure rate of flares just in date or just out of date is too much by my standard. Perhaps the companies that make the flares find it acceptable but I do not. Carry spares, it the life of you and your crew you are responsible for.

Another failure I must report was the non inflation of a liferaft. We have our raft packed after each class and I was amazed at having a failure to open. We cut the tapes and manualy opened the raft then had a good "bonding session" as we pumped it up by hand.
Another lesson, be ready for anything and everything to go wrong. on this particular day we had only three of the twenty parachutes open and five of the twenty smoke flares operate properly. Was I embarassed? You bet.
Happy safe boating

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