Have pyrotechnic flares as a distress alert had their day?

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is pressing the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) to review the carriage requirement for pyrotechnic flares.

They are also calling for the MCA to recognise the modern technologies that are now available for distress alerting and locating.

Currently leisure craft over 13.7m (45ft) are required to carry four parachute flares and four hand-held flares.
RYA cruising manager Stuart Carruthers said: ‘In today’s modern age there is no compelling case to support the mandatory requirement of flares as a practical and useful method of initiating a distress alert and location.’

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Global Positioning System (GPS) linked Digital Selective Calling (DSC) Very High Frequency (VHF) radio for distress alerting and signalling lamps or Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) for final mile location provide mariners with a more effective and far less dangerous means of initiating a distress alert and more importantly a timely response.

However these modern technologies are not recognised in the current UK regulations.
Stuart added: ‘The RYA has been shown no persuasive evidence that flares have search and rescue benefits that cannot be provided by modern technology.
‘Couple this with the significantly reduced disposal service for flares and the argument for continuing to mandate flares becomes unreasonable and illogical.’

MCA response

A spokesperson from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: ‘The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) notes the likely benefits of Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS) such as cost, safety and ease of disposal.

‘But from a practical perspective the signal produced by these devices is different to that produced by a hand-held pyrotechnic flare.

‘As it stands, EVDS may not be recognised internationally as a distress signal, and therefore may fail to trigger an appropriate search and rescue response.
‘However, work has begun internationally to research the effectiveness of EVDS. For example, the US Coastguard has commissioned a study which the MCA is positively supporting by monitoring and contributing views.

‘The MCA is committed to working with stakeholders towards the recognition of these devices.’