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The Salisbury Flare-off

Rob Hazard

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This was a good event. To anyone who carries emergency flares I strongly recommend going to a Flare-off and trying your gear under controlled conditions. We got to shoot off various flares and orange smoke-bombs over the Merrimack river.

I brought my Orion flare kit consisting of a pen-sized launcher with 3 screw-on flares in its original factory-sealed plastic bag. Tearing the bag open was enough effort that I wondered about managing it with frozen fingers while hanging onto a flooded kayak.

Once the bag was open I found the firing pin of the launcher was gummed up so it would not snap forward. It took a dollop of spit plus half a minute of working it back and forth before it was freed up enough to function. I was glad to have the chance to learn that on dry land.

Screwing the flare onto the launcher is a two handed operation. And the flares are small enough that they would be easy to drop if your hands were cold.

Once I was past that hurdle then the rest went fine. The flares fired properly and shone brightly for several seconds before hitting the water.

Of the 2 old smoke-bombs I brought, one worked fine and the other was a dud.

I also tried my old Orion 12 gauge flare gun with very out-dated (2004) flares. They worked fine and were easy to use. The Harbormaster had a similar gun with a handful of 2002 flares which uniformly failed to light. His more recent expired ones, however, worked fine.

Bottom line for me was that if you plan to carry flares in your PFD, the little launcher will work, but make sure you test the firing pin and then repackage the whole set in a good watertight bag. If you plan to carry your flares in your boat, the 12 gauge flare gun is much easier to use with cold wet hands. It's bulkier, though, even if you dispose of the big orange carrying box it comes in. I will repack mine in a watertight bag with new flares as well as my old ones and keep it in my day hatch.

I would also be interested in trying some Pains-Wessex flares if I ever get the chance.

The other thing to remember is to handle these things as though they were firearms, because, in a sense, that's what they are!

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Did anyone comment on value of laser flares and smoke flares for daytime situations?

Seems to me smoke flares might be something that would really be good to carry, but have never followed through.


Ed Lawson

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No, Ed,

There was no mention of laser flares. There were only 5 of us there, one being a young boy, and there was more fireworks than conversation.

The smokes, especially the larger ones, put out quite an impressive display, even in a breeze, but you need to hold them aloft or set them adrift, or the smoke will choke you. Handheld flares are also highly visible in daylight, but need to be held aloft and downwind, which may not be easy from a kayak in distress.

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