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Harbor_Pilot 02-15-2007 03:21 AM

Customs: Flares & Flare Guns
If you have a flare gun do you declare it at customs?

More so, do they want you to?

Any problems with that?

What do you have on board?

What is best?

Smart Advice?

Are there other methods for marking oneself?

Floating Flares?


Smoke? Pilots like smoke, it provides the wind direction and an indication of speed.

Flares not requiring a flare gun?

Do they have a useable shelf life, needing to be replaced periodically?

From the Arms debate thread I followed Trim50s link to the Rohn Flare Gun Site. I was surprised at the burn time of only a few seconds. I guess that could be effective to call attention to oneself in time of distress and rescue, but from military experiance I was thinking Illumination Flares or Parachute Type Flares. They light up the area brightly for several minutes.

Lots of questions I know, but I want to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible, within reason.>/smile.gif One could spend a life time researching and never shove off...

XTR 02-15-2007 04:39 AM

I'm nor sure of the listed shelf life for flares, but I can tell you that over time the humidity takes a toll.

I'll omit the details, but I was on a boat that had the little finger flares (no gun type). Attemped to use them and none of the 5 onboard worked. Don't know how old they were, several years at least.

Again, this is just one experience, but I'd surely think that if I was carrying them I'd be thinking about replaceing them every couple of years.

Harbor_Pilot 02-15-2007 08:01 AM

Humidity - Good Point

I will seal the flares in vacuum sealed plastic bags. I already own a Tilia food vacuum sealing machine. It is going on the boat.

Leaving some air in the bag, or placing a piece of styrofoam in the bag with the flares, will provide floation. I'm thinking one or two flares per bag. If one has to use a flare, the rest remain dry.

Some flares would go in the ditch bag, the life boat and others readily accessible.

JeanneP 02-15-2007 10:58 AM

US flares are dated. Fabrication date and expiry date. By US law, flares expire 42 months after manufacture, and you must have current flares on your boat to pass a USCG inspection. However, every boat we've ever met keeps their outdated flares as well. I don't know how long they will really last, but it seems to be well beyond the 42 months.

Go to a marine supply catalog and you'll see a variety of flares, some for coastal, some for offshore. Flying, hand-held, floating, whatever.

Burn times seem to run from 6 seconds to about 60 seconds, but unless there's somebody to see the flare, it doesn't do much good.

dnelson 02-15-2007 01:20 PM

Never had a problem with a flare gun and customs - usually they don't require you to declare them. Never had one that wasn't orange though - might have a problem if it looked like a sawn-off shotgun.

Desiccant in the ditch kit is a good idea - slows down the growth of molds, and extends the life of everything in it.

Expired flares will often still fire (more than 50% of the time.) So keep the old ones. Magnesium flares, and parachute flares are less useful for signaling - but can be helpful in an MOB situation.

Swagman 02-15-2007 06:10 PM

Hi Aqua Man,

I think you'll find most cruisers carry a regular kit of suitable offshore flares - red handhelds, white handhelds, red parachute, and smoke.

The only ones I've ever seen used in anger are red parachutes and can confirm they held up long enough for us to spot them!

No issues at all with customs on flares carried - but some authorities do insist the flares are in date. In at least one EU country a skipper was issued an on-the-spot fine for pulling out flares that had expired.

Most would store flares in a waterproof screw top container which can be accessed quickly. We've two such containers accessible in seconds. Such containers will totally remove any risk of damp damaging your flares. Pack out the containers with strips of rigid foam to stop them rubbing / damaging themsleves with any movement.

IMHO this is better than sealing each flare into a vacuum pack. When you want them you want them quick - and trying to tear off slippery packing with wet hands etc all takes up valuable time.

And most sensible people, when flares expire - do keep the expired ones as a majority (kept well) will still fire years later. What you do is simply hide them away elsewhere as a back up - and when anyone in authority asks to see your flares, you of course show them your nice new ones!

Hope this helps


Auzzee 02-15-2007 08:17 PM

In all state jurisdictions in Australia, it is mandatory to have a full compliment of flares which must be in current date. The number of flares and type varies depending on the size and expected use of the boat. Out of date flares can be carried, but they cannot be substituted for current flares.


Nausikaa 02-16-2007 01:37 AM

Most flares have a shelf life of three years. I set off six hand flares and six parachute flares at the end of the last year. They had been sitting on the shelf here in Aden for almost three years and, despite the humidity and heat, worked perfectly. They were vacuum packed though.




Piotrek 02-16-2007 02:24 AM

Hi Aqua Man

I see, that you have lots of questions. I'd advice you to take some offshore sailing class.

In Poland we have obligatory sailing certifficates, like driving licence. You want to

sail a boat registered in Poland, you need certifficate. Our certifficates are based on RYA system and I must say, I've learned a lot during my course. I have "Yacht Skipper" what translates, more or less to "RYA Yachtmaster Offshore".

I know, that in US, ASA issues international certificates, but I don't know, how good they are. Surely you can find some excellent schools.

I'd also advise you to buy or borrow from library some offshore sailing handbook. I'd consider handbook design for some sailing course, personally I like RYA publications. You can find answers for many of your questions there. Moreover, informations are systematic, and you will learn not only, what you know, that you don't know, but also, what you don't know, that you don't know.

For good visibility of your boat you should invest in good navigation lights (mast top tricolor if you have less then 40' boat; lights mounted on the deck may be invisible if there are big waves), good radar reflector, and VHF radio, so you can call the ship you are affraid of.

As for flares.

One can buy flare gun (big pistol) and shells, but probably cheeper, lighter and

more maintaince free are plastic flare revolvers (plastic handle, with 6-flare barrel). You may buy barrels with white, green or red flares. You don't have to reload every time you shoot, just rotate the barrel. Old pistol can jam sometimes, you must oil it, deal with handfull of shells at night/rain/storm and it's heavier. In Poland one need a licence for flaregun, but not for plastic flares, and I'm pretty sure, you don't have to declare plastic flares.

Always look for SOLAS or USCG certivicates buying savety signals.

Other options are parachute flares and hand flares.

Don't forget about good flashlight and/or decklights. Lighting a sails makes sailboat very visible.

For daytime, one can use smoke signal, and for signaling aircrafts, orange dye, that disolves in water.

What else? Foghorn, strobe lights, whistle, mirror.

And if you are shipwrecked on the uninhabited island you can try message in the bottle...

Trim50 02-16-2007 04:02 AM

I bought two Pulsar P100 lasers that I keep in my emergency bad.

They also work great for keeping birds off the spreaders.>/smile.gif

Fellow Traveler 02-18-2007 07:13 PM

Yeah, carry some flares. But I figure an EPIRB is better still. Best of all would be a phone call to Mom on the Iridium....Mom will DEFINATELY get someone out there to save her kid! I do not declare my flare gun (plastic 12 gauge) as it is required, normal yacht gear. This is, perhaps a stretch, but come on, am I also suppose to declare the kitchen knives? The battery acid? The bottle of Ammonia? All could be a defensive weapon, but none are going to ferment revolution.

CnC 02-18-2007 08:36 PM

Hi, All,

I was looking for a more "serious looking" flare gun, and bought an H&K German made one, plus the 12 gauge insert (so I can still by my cheaper flares at Westmarine) at...

This was about 1/2 the price of the same flare gun elsewhere that I could find online.

I have contacted a few of these nasty looking "paramilitary" type websites, requesting their opinions on best options for boat defense for those of us who are choosing to go without a regular fire-arm. Will share what they say. We will have an array of "last line" options with 25 MM, 26.5MM and 12 gauge flare guns, handheld flares, pepper/bear spray, a nice sized dog, possibly a tazer, etc. This is all more for peace of mind, and for firing "warning shots" coupled with a big spot light, loudspeaker, etc.

Chad and Carolyn

Charlie Jones 02-19-2007 09:17 PM

One comment on flares- the SOLAS flares have been found to hold up far better than the common WEST marine type that are only USCG approved. Cost a tad more, but worth it.

Swagman 02-22-2007 06:35 AM

Hi All,

Just read this in the UK's 'Cruising' Magazine and its relative to this thread.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) lays down the three year life of flares and in the case of SOLAS vessels it is a legal offence to carry ANY which are out of date'.

Oops. Obviously worth keeping those expired spares well hidden.


Nausikaa 02-22-2007 11:35 AM


Originally Posted by Swagman (Post 4970)
Oops. Obviously worth keeping those expired spares well hidden.


Keeping them out os sight is not a bad idea at all but SOLAS does not aply to normal sized yachts. No harm in folowing the minimum SOLAS requirements though.




Squidly 07-10-2007 04:30 AM


Originally Posted by Trim50 (Post 4800)
I bought two Pulsar P100 lasers that I keep in my emergency bad.

They also work great for keeping birds off the spreaders.>/smile.gif

A red laser is not bad but for maximum visibility at night, the best color laser is green such as (Hulk Laser ). Green is much more visible to the eye and would be visible from a greater distance when signalling. Lasers have the advantage over flares in that they can be used multiple times, can be left on and are not normally a customs issue.

Unless you want to do some serious damage to birds, i'd avoid using any lasers on them.

daytrader 07-10-2007 04:49 AM

I have noticed they take boat folks to the bank on flares.

You pay 3 times what most others pay.

Order your flares on line. That or try to stop into a truck stop at a us marina. If they have a marina they have a truck stop. Fo buy you hand held there for about 2 bucks each. Trucks do not use them anymore.

The flare guns can be ordered online and UPSED to most areas. Mine cost me less then 15 bucks with 5 flares. It is plastic and bright orange. it came with 5 flares. 1- 7 second, 2- 5 second and the rest 3 second. The extra flares are expensive. I will just order a new gun with 5 flares, its like 2 bucks more.

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