Pyrotechnic Distress Flares Q&A|

Pyrotechnic Distress Flares Q&A – An interview with Drew Marine Signal and Safety

Pyrotechnic Distress Flares Q&A – An interview with Drew Marine Signal and Safety

The most universally recognised visual signal indicating distress offshore – the sight of a pyrotechnic flare illuminating the sky – has been saving lives at sea for more than one hundred years.

Blue Sheets speaks exclusively to Chris Feibusch, Head of Global Marketing at Drew Marine Signal and Safety – manufacturer of Comet and Pains Wessex products – about the importance of pyrotechnic marine distress signals in today’s market.

Q: How do pyrotechnic flares work?

A: Once ignited, pyrotechnic flares produce an extremely bright light. Flares are used for signalling, illumination, or defensive countermeasures, and red flares are especially recognisable when people are in distress at seas.

Parachute Rocket flares reach altitudes of 300 metres +, burn brightly for up to 40 seconds once launched and are designed to withstand exceptional environmental exposure and perform reliably even after immersion in water. 

Q: How safe are flares?

A: Flares are built to rigorous specifications and contain energetic materials, so should always be used according to the maker’s instructions. Flares should always be stored in the correct way and disposed of safely and responsibly.

The training and education of how and when to activate flares is vital, as it is essential that flares are used quickly, correctly and safely in an emergency situation at sea. Crews should always be given an initial briefing on board about the safety protocol in the event of an emergency and should be shown the location of marine distress signals.

Official training courses can also be attended about how, when and where to launch flares. Drew Marine Signal & Safety has also prepared a selection of videos, which illustrate how its flares work: and 

Q: Are there different types of flares? 

A: Yes. There are a wide variety of flares available, from hand flares to orange smokes and rocket flares. The type of flare you select will depend on the emergency situation and time of day.

For example, an orange hand smoke is ideal for day-time rescues, whereas a red parachute rocket can be used by day or night, offering visibility over a longer range.  

Q: What flares do I need for my boat? 

A: There are minimum recommendations for the carriage of flares depending on the type of boating:

  • Boats sailing within three miles: Two red hand flares and two orange hand smokes, stored in a water resistant three litre polybottle.
  • Boats sailing within seven miles of the shore: Two red hand flares, two orange hand smokes and two red parachute rockets, stored in a water resistant three litre polybottle.
  • Boats sailing seven miles beyond the shore: Four collision white handflares, two lifesmokes, four red hand flares and four red parachute rockets, stored in a waterproof 12 litre polybottle.

Carriage of flares is mandatory on commercial vessels, which must follow the specific requirements of the relevant code under which they operate.

Pyrotechnic Distress Flares Q&A - An interview with Drew Marine Signal and Safety

Q: How do I dispose of out of date or damaged flares? 

A: Flares have an expiry dates so that the user can be confident that the flares will work at sea. An out of date or damaged flare is not an inactive flare and need to be disposed of safely and responsibly.

Flares should not be dumped at sea or in household waste. If you contact your local Coastguard Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre they will advise you when to take your flares in for disposal, alternatively contact your local chandlery, which may have a return/replace scheme in place.

Q: Are there other distress signals that can be used in an emergency? 

A: There are a variety of products available which can be used to aid rescues at sea, such as EPIRBS (Emergency Position Radio Indicting Beacons), AIS (Automatic Identification System for collision avoidance), and DSC (Digital Selective Calling on VHF radios).

It is important to note that no one system is more effective than another distress signal in safety, and that all means of signalling distress are effective and work best when used in conjunction with each other. However, nothing has yet replaced the specific function of pyrotechnic flares.

As well distress alerting, flares act as a final mile pinpoint location marker and also as a wind direction indicator for approaching rescue craft, vessel, spotter plan or helicopter to safely retrieve casualties – making them an indispensable safety item for vessels all over the world.  

When an emergency at sea occurs, it is of paramount importance that all crew on board are rescued as safely and quickly as possible.

For more information about Drew Marine Signal & Safety, please visit: