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Old Flares Breed a Dilemma

By Wayne Spivak, Branch Chief – National Training Department,
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

The off-season is here, and you're begging to get back into the boating season. While chomping at the proverbial bit, you begin to sort through your boat equipment. You find your pyrotechnic safety items. We're talking about your flares, your meteors and your orange smokes.

According to Coast Guard regulations the shelf life for pyrotechnic devices is three (3) years from manufacture. It is also suggested that you keep the "just" expired flares, smokes and meteors. While they don't meet the federal requirements, in all likelihood they probably still work. If you keep rotating your new flares with your "just" expired flares, that means when your new flares expire, your old flares will have been onboard for six years.

Let's focus on flares for the moment, but the following generalizations are also true for all pyrothecnics. The federal minimum standard requires three flares. Should you ever need to ignite them, you'll find that a single flare's life isn't very long. Should you fire off your flare at an inopportune moment, you've wasted what is probably 33% of your chances of being located by a passing ship or plane - if you've decided to only meet the minimum federal standards of three flares. A very sobering thought!

If you keep your older (just expired) flares on the boat, attempt to light these off first. Then, if they do work, you've increased your number of flares by a factor of two. If they don't work, well nothing ventured is nothing gained.

But what do you do about the second generation (older than 6 years) of retired flares? The question you need to ask yourself is; "Do I think they will ignite?" If you don't feel confident keeping these second generation retired flares, then you will need to dispose of them, safely and legally.

Pyrotechnic Disposal
You have two choices when considering disposal of flares and other pyrotechnical equipment.

1.(Preferred method): Contact your local fire department, sanitation department or environmental protection department and determine your local hazardous waste material disposal rules. Then follow the rules.

2. Contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary and/or United States Power Squadron unit and see if they would like to have some old flares for training purposes. The Auxiliary and the Power Squadron teach boating courses year-round, and many of them sponsor (after receiving permission from the Coast Guard) pyrotechnic training days for the public.

The Auxiliary has many more of these days for their members, since those members who want to qualify in the Boat Crew and Coxswain on-the-water missions need to know how to use flares and other pyrotechnical devices.

Actually learning how to use pyrothecnics is a very important experience. Knowing how to ignite them, seeing how they burn, and how the slag drops is important information. Pyrotechnics are dangerous! A good reason to take a safe boating course and a better reason for possibly joining the Auxiliary!

However, there is a limit to both the Auxiliary and the Power Squadron's need for flares, and other pyrotechnic devices. Neither organization could possibly use all the manufactured devices that have fallen outside the Coast Guard legal standards.

To learn more about what to do during a boating emergency, why not take a boating safety course! The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary has a variety of boating courses geared for all levels of boating knowledge. You can contact your local Auxiliary Flotilla by either calling your local Coast Guard unit or visiting the Coast Guard on the web at https://www.uscg.mil or the Coast Guard Auxiliary at http://www.cgaux.org

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