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6 things every sailor should know how to do

2018 May 1

Don’t head out to sea without knowing what to do when emergencies—both small and large—arise

2 How to fire a flare

Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race photo


The most important part of firing a flare is to know when to do it. You want to maximize the chances of it being seen, so wait until you see a boat or plane before firing. 

When you do see someone who may be able to help, it is recommended that you fire two aerial flares, one right after each other. The idea is that the first flare will catch their attention and the second flare will help them confirm the sighting and direction of the signal, according to Orion Signals.

Parachute flares burn for 25 to 30 seconds and do not need to be fired in pairs. 

Once you have caught the attention of a would-be rescuer, do whatever you can to continue signaling. This includes using a flashlight or mirror or waving clothing. Orion recommends that sailors have enough handheld flares onboard for 12 minutes of burn time. Use these flares to help rescuers pinpoint your position as they home in on your boat.

A few other tips will help maximize the effectiveness of flares:

1. Stay with the boat if at all possible. A boat is much easier to find than a person in the water or a life raft.

2. Read the instructions on flare operation before you need them. You may waste critical time figuring out how to use a flare and miss a prime opportunity to use it.

3. Remember that search and rescue missions often use grid patterns, which means the same aircraft may fly over multiple times. If you miss your first opportunity to signal to them, wait to see if they pass again rather than firing a flare after they’ve passed and are unlikely to see it.

4. Carry more flares than you think you will need.

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