In a world full of seven-bladed razors and fraudulent ‘wrinkle-smoothing’ potions, few of us would look at our emergency flares and consider them an extravagance – and yet the RYA has questioned both the usefulness and the modernity of the established guidelines by putting pyrotechnics on its hit list.

Emergency flares: For or against?

The battle lines have been drawn between the RYA, which believe electronic aids have effectively replaced the flare, and the MCA, which still insists on pyrotechnics aboard large leisure vessels and shipping in UK waters.

As things stand, leisure boats of 45 feet or more are required to carry four handheld and four parachute flares. But according to the RYA, technology has reached such a stage that the humble flare has no practical value for a vessel in distress.

We have EPIRBs and GPS-linked, DSC-equipped VHF radios, plus signalling lamps and Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) to help guide rescuers in the final moments of a search. Plainly, an electronic device is intrinsically less dangerous than a tub of explosives and yet these modern technologies are still not recognised by UK regulations. The RYA is therefore pressing the MCA (Maritime & Coastguard Agency) to review and modernise the rules behind the carriage of pyrotechnic flares.

But are they right to do so? Well certainly, an EVDS (or ‘laser flare’) is a useful alternative to a pyrotechnic in terms of cost and safety. You can also test it without rendering it useless and dispose of it without difficulty but the MCA remains unconvinced, as Geoff Matthews explains: “From a practical perspective the signal produced by these devices is different to that produced by a hand-held pyrotechnic. We are concerned that electronic visual distress signals may not be recognised as such, with potentially fatal consequences. Therefore our advice is that EVDS should not be carried as a substitute for conventional pyrotechnic flares.”

It looks like this head-to-head between the industry’s foremost red tape experts is likely to possess all the drama of an arm wrestle between asthmatic librarians. It’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top but hopefully, we will receive the abridged highlights in plenty of time to suffer an emergency at sea without breaking the rules…

Written by: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a journalist, copywriter and magazine editor with a long history in boating and a happy addiction to the water. He’s worked on boats, lived on boats, bought boats, sold boats and – when he’s not actually on board a boat – he can generally be found in his Folkestone office, tapping away at the computer and gazing out to sea.