Choosing the Right Flares

+ 4 Trade Secrets from our Force 4 Boat Owners  

Flares form an essential part of our on-board safety kit. We all hope we never have to use them, but knowing they are there (and in date!) gives us all peace of mind.

In this guide we will have a look at the flares that are available, how to choose the right flares for your type of boating, and when to use each type of flare. See all Flares >


1. Choose the Right Type of Flares. Pyrothechnic flares generally fall in to two categories: Light emitting and smoke emitting. It is important to know the difference and when to use each type.

Flares that emit a bright light, such as red or white handflares and parachute rocket flares, are ideal for use in dim light conditions or at night.

Smoke flares work better in daylight (light emitting flares are incredibly bright, but during daylight they become much less noticeable) when a large cloud of orange smoke on the horizon is something that people are likely to notice. On the other hand, smoke flares are of very little use at night when the cloud created is no more visible than any other unlit item in the dark.

Trade Secret. All types of pyrotechnic flares become incredibly hot during use. Most flare kits have extra space in the container, so it's worth investing in a pair of leather gloves or gauntlets and storing them inside your flare container.

Just be aware that some flares can be more fiddly to activate, so check the instructions and decide in advance if you will wear one glove or two, and whether it will be on your right or left hand. See more >

2. Handheld or Rocket Flares. Red light emitting flares come as either handheld flares or rocket flares.

Hand held flares are useful in situations where help is nearby, and you need to 'pinpoint' your location.

Rocket flares are designed to be visible over the horizon, greatly increasing the chances of being seen (but at the same time only giving rescuers a rough idea of your location). For this reason the larger flare packs (coastal and offshore) come equipped with both types of flare.

Trade Secret. As a general rule flares should only be used if they are likely to be seen. Be aware of how the curvature of the earth creates our 'horizon' and how this affects visibility.

You may be able to see a light just on the horizon, but if this is at the top of a mast the chances are that the people on that vessel can't see you (or the red hand flare you may be about to set off!). See more >

3. Chose from our range of Flare Kits. To make buying flares easier, we supply them in ready made kits. We've listed them below along with a rough guide on which type to buy for which activity. See All Flare Packs >

Inshore Flare Pack: This kit is ideal for inshore use and is compact enough to fit on smaller craft such as dinghies and jet-skis. It contains handheld flares only (no rockets) so is generally for use within 3-4 miles of land. See more >

Aerial Inshore Flare Pack: Essentially an inshore kit plus two small rockets for additional visibility as you approach the horizon, or if you are near cliffs or behind obstacles. See more >

Coastal Flare Pack: Suitable for use further away from land, the coastal kit contains two parachute rockets. These stay aloft for much longer than the mini Rockets, and can give visibility over the horizon. We normally recommend Coastal Kits for vessels venturing between 5 and 10 miles from land. See more >

Offshore Flare Pack: The Offshore kit is normally recommended to vessels travelling more than 10 miles from land. It doubles up on the rockets and red hand flares supplied in the coastal kit, and exchanges the hand smoke flares for larger, buoyant floating smoke flares. See more >


Trade Secret. Flares carry an expiry date. It is worth knowing that carrying out of date flares is considered illegal in some countries such as France, and users found in possession of them can face a fine. It may be tempting to carry your old set in addition to your new set, but it is worth weighing up the risks of carrying out of date and potentially unstable pyrotechnic devices aboard your vessel against any advantages in terms of the number of flares at your disposal. See more >

4. Electronic Flares. It is important to know both the advantages and disadvantages of electronic flares. The main disadvantage is that they can only really replicate a red light emitting hand flare. They will not replace either rockets or smoke emitting flares, but can provide many advantages over standard red hand flares. They are very safe, and easily transported (they are not pyrotechnic devices). Once activated they can operate for several hours, much longer than a light emitting pyrotechnic flare, and can be turned on and off at the users discretion. They can also offer a size advantage over red hand flares (some, such as the Exposure Spot-Me are positively tiny) and generally batteries have much longer expiry dates than pyrotechnic flares. Should you have one? Yes. Should you replace your pyrotechnic flares with one? No, they work extremely well as another option to flares but ultimately cannot replicate all types of flares

Trade Secret. Many of our electronic flares use standard user replaceable batteries - so it's well worth keeping a spare set onboard or in your grab bag. Just check the specification of the batteries though, many operating times quoted are for Lithium batteries, not standard alkaline or similar. These Lithium batteries are a bit more expensive, but have a great lifespan and are still widely available.

Remember our stores are filled with experts, so if you get stuck you can always ask for advice. Chances are they've come across the same problem.
Why not buy the kit from your local Force 4 and grab advice at the same time?
Find your nearest Force 4 Chandlery - click here.


Happy Sailing!

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