Orion Reports on Defective Flare Investigation

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In the July 2011 Mailport, Practical Sailor reported that a new Orion handheld flare had malfunctioned during an emergency training course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. The defective flare had melted through its end cap, allowing hot, melted slag to drip out.

No one was injured in the incident, but it prompted us to remind readers about the potential dangers of using pyrotechnic signals. Though flares remain one of the best ways to attract attention, users should be prepared to cope with a possible malfunction, especially in a life raft.

The report also prompted the flare maker, Orion Safety Products (www.orionsignals.com), to investigate the incident. After recreating the malfunction in a controlled laboratory setting, Orion determined that the defective signal was likely missing a fiber disc barrier at the lower end of the flare composition column. (See illustration Above.)

“The fiber disc is mechanically inserted into place after the flare has been loaded to hold the composition powder in place,” explained Orion Plant Manager Rod Utter. “The fiber disc also prevents the molten residue from the combustion process from entering the handle section. If a disc is omitted, the composition powder remains in place, but at the conclusion of the burn, molten slag can drip internally into the handle and melt through the plastic end-cap.”

This appears to have been the case with the flare that malfunctioned during the Annapolis School of Seamanship’s training.

Orion has had no other reports of other flares malfunctioning this way, and it did not issue a recall of any of its products. Utter said the company believes the flare’s malfunctioning was a ”one-time fluke.” However, Orion immediately instituted a “visual inspection” to ensure that there’s a fiber disc in every handheld flare, and an automated “optical inspection” system will be introduced this month, Utter said. “Even though we believe [the Annapolis School of Seamanship’s] experience was an anomaly, we do not want to take any chances of this ever happening again.

If you’ve purchased an Orion handheld flare recently, we suggest contacting Orion customer service at 800/851-5260 or mcustomerservice@orionsignals.com for more information.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. 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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