Disposing of Expired Flares

aerial flares


Do you have any info on how to dispose of expired aerial distress flares? I am a member of the Cowichan Power and Sail Squadron (Vancouver Island). We have not been able to get any info about this.

Mat Gilliam
Redwing, 1989 O’day 302
Maple Bay, Vancouver Island, B.C.

It’s a good idea to keep expired flares on hand to use as backups (on board or in a vehicle), but be sure to store them in a clearly labeled container separate from your current flares. If you find yourself with an overstock of old—or unwanted—hand flares, however, you must dispose of them properly. Unfortunately there’s no set agency that deals with expired flare disposal or recycling. Because state and federal laws pertaining to flare disposal and transportation vary, there’s no single disposal policy.


Never throw them away with your household garbage; it can be dangerous to trash handlers and can lead to an unwanted fire. And while we’ve seen some chatter in online cruisers’ forums suggesting you can simply fire them off in some back-woods location, rest assured that you cannot do so legally. It would be considered issuing a false distress alert, which can carry hefty consequences.


For flare disposal info in the Vancouver Island area, contact Pacific Blasting and Demolition Ltd. (www.pacificblasting.com or 604/205-6890). The company has set up expired-flare collection depots at several marinas and chandleries around British Columbia. There is a charge for the disposal process, but the flares are safely dismantled and recycled by workers trained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the program is expanding its lineup of collection sites, according to the company.


If you’d rather not pay for disposal or can’t reach a collection site, your best bet is to contact your local fire service, police agency, or fire department for advice on proper disposal in your area. (Those in the U.S. also can contact the U.S. Coast Guard.) Local police and fire agencies may be able to dispose of them in their burn units. You can also try your local public works, sanitation, or Hazmat department to see whether they’ll accept flares. Oftentimes, whatever agency handles ammunition and fireworks disposal also will handle expired and unwanted flares.


Some boating education groups will take old flares off your hands for use in safety courses or demos on flare handling. Contact your local Coast Guard auxiliary or another power or sail squadron to see whether they may be able to use them.


There also are some retailers that may accept expired flares when a new purchase is made, so you could check with your local marine flare retailer. Flare maker, Orion Safety (www.orionsignals.com), however, does not accept them. According to Orion’s Bob Defonte, the company is working on a test program to collect and dispose of unwanted flares, but it is still in its infancy.


Transport Canada (www.tc.gc.ca), which is tasked with flare-related regulations, is considering new disposal alternatives, including a “lifecycle management” system where a disposal fee is included in the purchase price, similar to what’s done with car batteries and tires.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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