Flare Mishap Highlights Need for Caution When Firing

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Flare Mishap Highlights Need for Caution When Firing

Photos by of Ralph Naranjo

Flare Mishap Highlights Need for Caution When Firing

Photos by of Ralph Naranjo

In a recent emergency procedures training course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship (www.annapolisschoolofseamanship.com) a handheld Orion flare melted through its handle and began dripping hot slag. Course coordinator Matt Benhoff said, “The trainee operating the flare was wearing heavy leather gloves and goggles and dropped the malfunctioning pyrotechnic flare in a disposal bucket before the problem led to an injury.” If a similar scenario played out in a life raft, hot slag could injure a sailor already in trouble, or result in raft damage if the molten slag landed on an inflated buoyancy tube.

Upon taking a close look at the melted base of the handheld flare, we noted that the hot slag had burned all the way to the plastic end cap and then melted its way through the cap itself. In the above photo it’s easy to recognize the difference between the intact base of a flare that has burned according to design and the one that malfunctioned. These were all new USCG approved flares, less than 25% into their usable life span.

In an emergency situation, pyrotechnic signals remain one of best ways to attract the attention. However, the user needs to recognize that they are quite literally holding fire in their hand and should be prepared to cope with a malfunction, especially in a life raft.

We contacted Orion (www.orionsignals.com) about the incident. According to the flare maker, “Orion has manufactured millions of handflares over the years, and this is the first time we have seen or heard of this issue.” The company plans to inspect the remains of the malfunctioning flare. We’ll keep you posted once Orion’s investigation concludes.

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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