Boat Distress Flares – What They Are and Why You Need Them

The Essential Safety Equipment you need for any Boating Trip

Boat distress flares are one of those things that no one really thinks about until they need it.

Being out on the water can be a wonderful way to spend a day, a week, or even a month. There is nothing quite like enjoying the sunshine while gliding through the water on your yacht, or perhaps dropping a line or a crab trap off the side of your fishing boat. 

But if you found yourself in an emergency situation, would you know how to attract attention using a visual distress signal such as a flare?

Chances are, you’ve got a pretty good idea about what you need to take with you on a boating trip in terms of food, drinks, clothing, equipment and so on, but do you also have the basic safety equipment that all boats are required to carry?

In this blog, we will discuss the types of boat distress flares available, how you should store them and what the rules are about using them, but first let’s look at the basic safety equipment you need to have on board.

Your Boating Safety Equipment Checklist

Your boating safety equipment checklist

No matter the size of your boat, you should carry a boating emergency kit  on board in case of an emergency, which should include:

  • A propelling device, in case of engine failure
  • An anchor, with 15-meter rope, in case of engine failure
  • A heaving line, for water rescues
  • A fire extinguisher
  • A bailer or hand pump, in case of flooding on board
  • An emergency kit, including First Aid, boat documentation, communication tools, navigation tools, extra batteries, water, snacks, weather items, a knife, and a change of clothes.
  • A selection of visual signalling devices, such as flares and waterproof flashlights
  • A sound signalling device, such as horns or whistles.

Some of the above are simply a good idea to have on board your boat, but some – like distress flares – are required by law. Most importantly, carrying these items aboard can save you in the event of an emergency.

What are the Requirements for Boat Distress Flares in Canadian Waters?

what are the requirements for boat distress flares in canadian waters

Different countries have different rules about the use of distress flares on boats, but Canadian laws regarding distress flare requirements are as follows:

  • While on an ocean or a body of water where it is possible to travel over 1 nautical mile from the shore, you are required to have flares on board.
  • While on a body of water where it is not possible to travel over 1 nautical mile from shore, you are not required to have flares on board.
  • Boats under 6 meters must have 3 distress signals (in addition to smoke signals).
  • Boats between 6 and 9 meters require 6 distress signals (in addition to smoke signals).
  • Boats between 9 and 12 meters require 12 distress signal flares (half of which should not be smoke signals).
  • Boats over 12 meters require 12 distress signals (half of which should not be smoke signals).
  • Distress signals must only be used in the event of an emergency. Any non-emergency use is illegal.

When you have the required equipment on your vessel, you can relax a little more, knowing that you’ve covered all your bases and planned for an emergency. 

What are the Different Types of Distress Flares?

Boat distress signals type D - smoke signals

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to the devices that could very well save your life one day. There are four main types of distress signals: rocket parachute flares (Type A), multi-star flares (Type B), handheld flares (Type C) and smoke signals (Type D). 

Boat Distress Signals Type A: Rocket Parachute Flares

As the name indicates, Type A distress signals have a rocket capable of launching the flare 300 meters into the air. Once the flare hits its maximum height, a parachute billows out and the flare burns red for 40 seconds while descending. This type of distress signal is viewable up to 20 nautical miles away. 

Boat Distress Signals Type B: Multi-Star Flares

Type B distress signals shoot off two or more red stars (like fireworks) at intervals of up to 15 seconds, with the stars burning for around 4 seconds. With a maximum height of 100 meters, Type B distress signals can be seen up to 12 nautical miles away.

Boat Distress Signals Type C: Handheld Flares

These handheld distress signals are easier to see from the air than from the surface of the water, assisting rescuers who are within a few nautical miles. These flares are shaped like a long tube and are designed to burn bright red while the operator waves them slowly back and forth.  

Boat Distress Signals Type D: Smoke Signals

Type D distress signals can be handheld or able to float on the water. The buoyant type will produce orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes on calm water, while the handheld variety produces smoke for a minimum of 1 minute. The important thing to remember about Type D distress signals is that they are only usable in clear daylight, since smoke signals rely on high-visibility weather conditions.

There are a few other distress signal types, including LED flares, but these are not approved by Transport Canada. Distress signals onboard Canadian vessels need to be picked from the four approved types listed above. 

Each type of distress signal has its own unique features, but one feature that they all share is that they are valid for 4 years after their manufacture date. Expired distress signals need to be disposed of promptly, according to the disposal instructions on the device itself.

How Should You Store Your Distress Flares Onboard?

The single most important thing about distress signal storage is that they need to be kept away from heat sources and flammable liquids or gases. Your distress signals should be kept upright in a waterproof container somewhere cool, dry, and easy to access. After all, an emergency device is useless if you can’t get to it quickly and easily.

It’s a good idea to paint the storage container with a bright colour and label it “Distress Signals” so that other people on the craft can easily identify the container.

Stay Safe and Enjoy the Trip!

Now that your boat is fully stocked with all the necessary safety equipment, be sure to go over their location and usage instructions with any passengers before setting off. 

At Van Isle Marina, our knowledgeable staff can help you with sourcing any safety equipment you require while you are moored with us. We offer long and short-term moorage options and a wide range of amenities for overnight guests including showers and a business centre. Contact us today to find out more or book a slip.