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If you find yourself in trouble and need help on the double, you'll want to make your whereabouts known to anyone nearby. One of the best ways to catch the attention of rescuers is via the glow of an ultra-bright, fiery flare — day or night. When shot up high in the air, aerial flares can broadcast your signal for help to a wide-ranging area. Flare guns are commonly stored onboard boats, other watercraft, and aircraft, as well as carried by people traveling through the wilderness.
Not a Firearm
A flare gun, as its name implies, functions like a gun (although not recognized legally as a firearm in most jurisdictions). Pulling its trigger will draw its hammer back until it releases. The hammer then strikes the flare's detonating cap, which in turn ignites the flare and causes it to fire out of the barrel. Flare guns should be pointed up into the air when fired. Shooting the flare straight up also makes it easier for others to determine your position and maximizes its visibility. Aerial flares can travel 500 feet high when fired directly up, making them powerful enough to be lethal if shot at a person or animal, so use caution and observe gun safety rules when handling one.
Two Are Better Than One
To better facilitate your rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard instructs that when a rescue craft or party is spotted, you should fire two flares in succession, not just one. Two flares allow rescuers to better understand where the flares were launched from.
Aerial Flare Types
There are different types of flares for different situations. White flares are for non-emergency signaling as well as area illumination, while red flares signal an emergency. Be aware that launching red flares when there is not an emergency may be illegal depending on your region. Parachute flares help the flare linger in the air longer than regular aerial flares. They can stay afloat for as much as 30 seconds, giving you a better chance that it is spotted. Another category of flares is SOLAS flares. SOLAS stands for “safety of life at sea,” are more powerful, and are primarily used by vessels sailing the deep ocean.
Use on Land
While not at sea, those traveling across land can use flare guns to signal a need for help as well. In doing so, be careful not to inadvertently cause a fire. Remember that a flare is essentially a flying torch, so when it lands, it is incendiary and can easily light dry brush and foliage.
Stories have surfaced of people using flare guns to scare away wild animals including bears as well. In a pinch, flare guns can provide some impromptu security, but remember that they are dangerous and have the ability to seriously injure or kill — use caution and proper judgment. Before heading out into the great unknown, be sure to check with local authorities about the use and legalities of flare guns in the area you intend on travelling.
Many Emergency Uses
We're fans of having a flare gun around regardless of whether we're camping in the high desert, exploring a swamp, or on a craft 100 miles offshore. You never know if trouble will come looking for you. If you find yourself in a flood sitting on your roof, your boat is going down, or you're awaiting rescue in the bush, you bet you'll want a flare gun to signal for help.
Warning! 12-gauge flares and shotgun shells should never be mixed. Firing either out of non-approved devices is dangerous and can be illegal.
Bluewater Alert/Locate Signal Kit
The Bluewater Alert/Locate Signal Kit contains five handheld red signal flares, one handheld orange smoke flare, six 12-gauge red aerial signals that reach an altitude of 500 feet and 12-gauge pistol-style flare launcher with attached flare bandolier. The kit is enclosed in a soft, bright orange, buoyant bag. The flares are U.S. Coast Guard approved for day and night signaling.
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