There are better ways of making a distress signal, says the RYA

Have flares had their day? The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) thinks so and is trying to persuade UK authorities to drop the requirements for yachts over 13.7m to carry them on board.

“In today’s modern age there is no compelling case to support the mandatory requirement of flares,” says Stuart Carruthers, cruising manager of the (RYA).

“If the question is how to initiate a response, our position is this: flares are only required to burn for 40 seconds and you are expecting someone to see it, to recognise it and to take action. These days we have EPIRBs, personal locator beacons, and VHF DSC that will do the job automatically. That should negate the need for flares.”

Carruthers points out that the role of flares in pinpointing a casualty visually can be performed more easily by an omindirectional laser flare such as the Odeo distress flare. At £138 this is also cheaper than an offshore flare pack, is not dangerous to use and doesn’t go out of date or need to be specially disposed of (see

The push to get the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to review their requirements is being made at a time when they are overhauling their Marine Guidance Notes for recreational craft over 13.7m, which makes carriage of four parachute flares and four hand-held flares compulsory.

But when I ask if the MCA is receptive to the suggestion of this change, Carruthers admits: “I’m not entirely convinced they are, but what we want to do is create conditions for these alternatives to be recognised.”

So bureaucracy moves slowly, and it isn’t even compatible with other regulations. Carruthers tells me that a new piece of legislation, the Europen Pyrotechnic Articles Directive, makes the use of parachute flares illegal without the operator first undergoing training, and that there is no existing pyrotechnic training course for yachtsmen.

Meanwhile, thankfully, the march of modernity goes on, and for those of us going sailing, it seems daft to cling to compulsory flares in favour of much more useful gadgets such as EPIRS, PLBs or satellite phones.

As Carruthers says: “If you are not carrying another electronic device [such as EPIRB, PLB or VHF DSC] then you’d be barking mad, because that’s the way the management of search and rescue has gone.”