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Boating Flares and Distress Signals

When operating on coastal and enclosed waters, recreational vessels are required to carry a set number and type of flares according to the size of the vessel. See Transport Canada for details.

Red distress flares have a visibility range of 10 km and are designed for use at night but can also be seen during the day.

Orange smoke signals can be seen for up to 4 km (10 km by aircraft) and should be used in daylight to pinpoint your position.

A red star parachute distress rocket is required on board if vessels are travelling greater than two nm from the coast. They are designed to fire a single red star to a height of approximately 300 m. The star burns while falling for at least 40 seconds and can be seen from the greatest distance due to its intensity and elevation from sea level.

Flares must be stored in a cool, dry place. It is a good idea to store them in an approved waterproof flare container. These containers will also float if dropped in the water.

Operating a flare

  • Read the instructions on the side of the flare.
  • Make sure the wind is behind you.
  • Firmly hold the flare by the handle and hold the flare over the side of the boat.  Caution: the metal canister burns hot so DO NOT hold the flare anywhere else. 
  • Unscrew the lid on the top of the flare.
  • Hold the flare away from you at all times.
  • Never look into the top of the flare.
  • With your other hand, pull the yellow tag away from you and let the tag go.
  • The flare may take several seconds to activate. 
  • Once the flare is activated, hold in the air, make sure wind is behind you.
  • When smoke or flame has finished, drop the used flare canister in the water.  Do not drop the used canister in the bottom of the boat, it could burn through your hull or start a fire.

Important points to remember

  • Always delay using flares until you can see an aircraft, or until people on shore or in other boats are in visual range.
  • Keep flares away from fuel or combustibles and store in an accessible dry place.
  • Be prepared - ensure everyone on board your vessel knows where the flares are stored and how to use them.
  • Ensure that you carefully follow the activation instructions of all flares.

Flares hold a serviceable life of four years from the manufacture date. You must ensure the flares are current and obtain new ones if their use-by-dates are reached.


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