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Old 06-21-2021, 08:00 AM   #1
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Battery Powered Flare

So there have been a couple of threads in the distant past regarding the new battery powered strobe flares and thought it might be time to approach this topic again.

After a recent survey we discovered our flares were out of date (just barely ). During the trip to West Marine, the sales staff gave me the full court press about the new Coast Guard approved battery powered flare. I briefly considered it, but eventually just bought what I came there for in the first place. The traditional flares. But it does have me curious. Are they a real, viable replacement for the traditional flare? I can't imagine they are nearly as bright, which equates to less viewable distance. The operational safety factor has some appeal. I mean, they aren't a 5000 degree flame in the palm of your hand that spits out white hot embers. I don't know what battery powers them. Are they rechargeable or standard dry cell? Who has tried them and what is your opinion of them?
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Old 06-21-2021, 08:21 AM   #2
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So there have been a couple of threads in the distant past regarding the new battery powered strobe flares and thought it might be time to approach this topic again.

After a recent survey we discovered our flares were out of date (just barely ). During the trip to West Marine, the sales staff gave me the full court press about the new Coast Guard approved battery powered flare. I briefly considered it, but eventually just bought what I came there for in the first place. The traditional flares. But it does have me curious. Are they a real, viable replacement for the traditional flare? I can't imagine they are nearly as bright, which equates to less viewable distance. The operational safety factor has some appeal. I mean, they aren't a 5000 degree flame in the palm of your hand that spits out white hot embers. I don't know what battery powers them. Are they rechargeable or standard dry cell? Who has tried them and what is your opinion of them?

Different lights different batteries. Mine are C's (3) Replace every spring. As far as visibility..... I think it all depends on the conditions. But the BIG one for me is that they will run a lot longer. Some claim up to 60 hours. I'll settle for three or four..... show me a flare that does that.
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Old 06-21-2021, 08:37 AM   #3
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i tossed mine to the garbage can. when checked after a year battery was out. an expired flare will work in an emergency. the last thing i need is a nonfunctioning emergency device.
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Old 06-21-2021, 08:54 AM   #4
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In search and rescue, there is both an alert phase and a homing phase.


In my experience and what I have read, few flares are really capable of "alerting" others that you are in trouble when you are more than a few miles from anyone who can see you. Close to shore and inland waters (depending on the size)....any flare will do.The farther away, the higher they must go...but any flare that only lasts seconds...not a great alert either.


Parachute flares start to enter decent alert devices...but really don't get my vote as their cost compared to a couple PLBs (MUCH better alert device) start to equalize.


The homing phase for rescue units depends on their own onboard homing capability and what you can provide. because the USCG requires pyro (some inexpensive compared to PLBs) or an SOS light...either will work fine for rescue units within search areas so I opted for the safer and possible cheaper in the long run.
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Old 06-21-2021, 11:36 AM   #5
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In search and rescue, there is both an alert phase and a homing phase.

That's good to know. Thanks.

Since we are in-shore or just near-shore, the battery-powered *MAY* work okay for us. We opted, however, to stay with pyro for a lot of the same reasons. There is likely no exact solution because every emergency could be unique in both the time and availability of signaling devices aaaaaand the timing and process of the rescue. I can think of a hundred different ways where one or the other could be an advantage over the other. Additionally, I can see where my giant handheld flashlight with nearly a 2km throw would be better than both. So I guess for now, I stick with a proven tech like the pyro wands and simple aerials (and my big-ass flashlight). If battery-powered flares improve to really barf out the lumens (being a bit of a flashlight geek, I KNOW the emitters and batteries are already out there), perhaps an electric one will be on the boat next time.

I will look into PLBs too. That sounds like a more well-rounded solution.
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Old 06-21-2021, 11:44 AM   #6
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I have one. It's powered by standard C-cell batteries. I still keep traditional flares aboard. For me it's mainly a compliance device - presumably if I'm boarded it checks the box for having a USCG approved signaling device without having to worry my flares are a few days past expiration. I can't imagine its daytime visibility is any good but I'd probably grab it first for a nighttime emergency or in a situation I didn't feel was dire enough to warrant the risk of using pyrotechnic devices near fiberglass.
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Old 06-21-2021, 11:45 AM   #7
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I kinda know what it's like to be sent out on rescue and assistance tow missions.


In 35 years never was a flare used as an alert and turned into a succesful rescue/assist. Only once was one used to assist in locating. Not to say others has different experiences...but I doubt they were at the other end of the spectrum.


Handhelds don't have any more range in most cases than the electric light, and aerial flares that only go 200-400 feet don't have much range unless the rescue asset is tall or airborne.


Overall I think the USCGs requirement is ridiculous considering the life expectancy of flares and their actual performance. At least require the better SOLAS flares.


Fortunately the electronic ones are finally being certified ad still could be a lot better.


The overall education on "rescue" and the mindset and procedures to get rescued could be a lot better to the general boating public.
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Old 06-21-2021, 12:03 PM   #8
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I kinda know what it's like to be sent out on rescue and assistance tow missions...
Your observations are consistent with mine. I have had a few cases where flares did help find the vessel, but not the initial alert. In one case a smoke signal actually worked (barely) to locate the vessel several miles from where they thought they were. It was dumb luck that I happened to be looking that way when when they popped the smoke, and it was only visible at that distance for a second or two.

I also reported a flare siting once. The CG refused to believe me. They convinced themselves that I'd seen an airplane on approach to the airport about 40 miles away. I'd been watching the planes all evening, and I know for a fact what I saw was a flare. So, again, useless to alert anyone unless you're somewhere that hundreds of people will see it, and many will report it.

I carry good SOLAS flares for real emergencies, and the electronic flare for compliance. Maybe this technology will put enough of a dent in the profits of the makers of "three year" flares that they'll change the regulations.
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Old 06-21-2021, 12:28 PM   #9
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I carry good SOLAS flares for real emergencies, and the electronic flare for compliance. Maybe this technology will put enough of a dent in the profits of the makers of "three year" flares that they'll change the regulations.

I too do this. I also have been thinking the same concerning the regulation change.
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Old 06-21-2021, 01:24 PM   #10
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IMHO, a handheld flare is far from "proven" tech except as they are proven to be a greater hazard to the person using them than just about anything else on the boat. I have set off hundreds of them, and after a year from expiry, they are at best 75% effective. They like to drip burning slag blown back in your face and onto the tubes of your life raft.

On the other hand, the first battery-powered flare I bought ended up in the trash when I discovered a tiny bit of corrosion parted the extremely thin brass strip running from the bottom of the battery compartment to the top. It does pay to get a good quality one and do check it at least annually when you change the batteries.
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Old 06-21-2021, 02:11 PM   #11
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We have both the three C battery powered one and an aerial flare kit. I change the batteries every spring...well, actually I take them out in the winter and put new ones in in spring. I don't want them leaking and ruining the thing. This way even if the flares are out of date (yet still work) we are "in compliance". I no longer have the stupid hand held flares...well, I do, but they are expired. Also have strobe lights on our vests and a PLB in the ditch bag.
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Old 06-22-2021, 07:37 AM   #12
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I have one. It's powered by standard C-cell batteries. I still keep traditional flares aboard. For me it's mainly a compliance device - presumably if I'm boarded it checks the box for having a USCG approved signaling device without having to worry my flares are a few days past expiration. I can't imagine its daytime visibility is any good but I'd probably grab it first for a nighttime emergency or in a situation I didn't feel was dire enough to warrant the risk of using pyrotechnic devices near fiberglass.
I do the same, battery flare for compliance and backup, hand held flare (even if expired) for use.

BTW - daytime visibility of the battery flare is not sufficient. Most come with that silly little day flag for daytime compliance.
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Old 06-22-2021, 08:21 AM   #13
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Anyone in today's day and age of electronics relying on light or fire for rescue....... hmmmm.
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Old 06-22-2021, 08:38 AM   #14
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Anyone in today's day and age of electronics relying on light or fire for rescue....... hmmmm.

Tell that to the USCG
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Old 06-22-2021, 08:50 AM   #15
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Tell that to the USCG

Relying on it and having either alternative for compliance are 2 different things as I and others have stated. Unfortunately USCG regulations are often based on many factors...not just the best one or two.



Also, having a blinking light that lasts for hours or days versus dangerous, fire spouting, slag dropping flares or for seconds long aerial ones to me makes sense when in ADDITION to PLB/EPIRB/DSC VHF distress signals.


It took a few years to convert to the SOS signal hoping production models eventually improved...so finally it was time for me.
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Old 06-22-2021, 09:01 AM   #16
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Lots of good advice here and I placed my order for the electronic flare just now. $70 to achieve 'compliance' and my large stash of pyro flares retained for back up. Incidentally every July 4th I take one flare from each expired batch and I discharge it into the bay. I have been doing this for 15 years. It helps me gradually reduce my stash of long expired flares and equally importantly it lets me know if any batch is no longer effective. I have never yet had a flare fail to fire during this annual test. I will still buy the standard 'flare pack' periodically as my stash diminishes.
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Old 06-22-2021, 09:21 AM   #17
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I too have rarely had a flare out of hundreds ( recreational or commercial vessel expired) not operate unless a handheld obviously destroyed by moisture.

Just have finally reached the frequency and area of operation of a vessel where Pyro is more hassel/danger than worth just to meet compliance. That may change if my electronic flare fails as often as the earlier models.
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Old 06-22-2021, 11:56 AM   #18
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Please don't anybody think that pyro flares are any better in daylight than a strong flashlight or a battery powered SOS flare. I literally drove right by a guy in a stalled tin boat in between the jetties one day not even seeing the pyro flare he was waving around because I was concentrating on other traffic. Nobody is trying to say the SOS flare is for daylight because to be legal, you must have the SOS flag aboard as well for daylight display. I carry orange smokes for daylight display.
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Old 06-22-2021, 12:40 PM   #19
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Although it doesn't meet the legal requirements, while doing offshore testing of emergency equipment for downed aviators off Hawaii, the two most effective daytime signaling devices we found (excluding radios) were the signal mirror, operated by someone who knew how to use them, and sea dye markers.

Of course, the first assumes the person needing rescue is able to see the rescuer, and there is sunlight, and the second assumes rescuers flying at a higher altitude than a couple of hundred feet.

On our boat, we carry electronic, battery operated "flare", and signal flag to be legal, but pyro, both flare, and parachute type to actually be seen! Also carry EPIRB, and will be looking into PLB's . . .

Note: Something to be considered, is legal requirements are often the BARE MINIMUM of what is acceptable, not what is recommended or desired, when your butt is on the line!
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Old 06-22-2021, 01:23 PM   #20
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Open sea signaling with a mirror may work, but coastal, there are so many random reflections from boat windshields, etc...... we almost never diverted from a search pattern to investigate or initiate SAR based on a flash or so. The flashing would have to be regular and follow some sort of pattern to gain attention.

Sure its better than by itself/flashing doesn't necessarily mean distress like other methods. That's what worries me about the SOS lights. Many have no idea what SOS is as a pattern and it may all too often just look like a bobbing light or strobe.
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