Pyrotechnics (Flares)

The following pyrotechnics are mainly used at sea:

All pyrotechnics, including smoke signals, should be:


Rules for using pyrotechnics

Use pyrotechnics only when there is an emergency. It is forbidden to use pyrotechnics otherwise. The activation of distress flares has the same priority as if you issued a Mayday.
Do not use pyrotechnics that are more than three years old.
How do you tell that they are three years old? All pyrotechnics have a date of manufacture and the expiry date printed on them.
An expired pyrotechnic should not be used, and should be given to state authorities responsible for handling explosives.  Ask at your local Waterways Authorities Office or Volunteer Rescue Organization.
Use pyrotechnics only when there is reasonably good chance that they will be seen. Resist any temptation to use them as soon as you see a ship or aircraft. Weigh the chances of the rescue craft sighting the distress flares before using the limited stock of pyrotechnics. For example, if the stern of a vessel is seen, the chances of anyone keeping a lookout aft are remote.


Red Parachute Flares

Red Parachute signals are used to attract the attention of searching ships and aircraft some distance off.
N.B. Only red parachute flares indicate distress. White flares are used to illuminate an area and the Australian Navy and Air Force use green flares during exercises. These are not an indication of distress.
The signals can be sighted at a long range and identify the general area of search. If the searching boat or aircraft alters course, a second parachute rocket or hand flare should be fired.
Their range is:

The signals burn for about 40 seconds falling from a height of about 300 metres.
The procedures for firing a parachute rocket are printed in English and in picture format on every rocket. You must read and follow these procedures. Rockets can be fired by hand with negligible recoil.
In strong winds, aim the rocket slightly downwind. This will prevent the spent flare possible landing on the raft or vessel.
Ensure that the rocket is pointing upwards and clear of the survival craft. It can cause injury if fired towards someone.
In order to be seen in low cloud conditions, it is best to fire the rocket at an angle of 45°.
Never fire the flare directly at an aircraft.

Hand Held Red Flares

Hand flares are used to guide the searching ship or aircraft or pinpoint the survivors position. They are ideal for day or night use.
Their range is:

They burn for about one minute.


Read the operating instructions on each hand flare as they may be different.
Hand flares
The burning flare should be held downwind to prevent sparks falling onto the survival craft.
Hold the flare by gripping it at the safe holding position marked on the flare and tilt the flare.
Wrap your hand in wet cloth or towel to protect it against radiating heat and falling sparks.


Smoke signals

Smoke signals are of two types:

Smoke signals are used to pinpoint the survivors’ position. The smoke signal’s use to raise an alarm is doubtful. They will be more readily seen from an aircraft than a surface craft. They are for daytime use only.
Their range is at the most about two to three nautical miles in good visibility.
How long does their smoke last? The buoyant float smokes for at least three minutes. Hand-held smoke signal give smoke for about one minute.
How to operate smoke signals
The instructions for use are printed on each smoke signal. You must read these.

They should be used on the lee side of the survival craft.
Remember, they are good for signalling when winds are light. In strong winds, however, the smoke may disperse quickly.


Green Dye Markers
They are for attracting attention—but only during the day. They can be detected most effectively by aircraft.
How to operate dye markers
When you hear or see an aircraft, empty the contents of the sachets in the water on the lee side of the survival craft.
The marker will leave a greenish-yellow trail on the water. If the aircraft alters course, use a hand smoke signal or hand flare to pinpoint your position.
Remember that dye markers can easily disperse in strong winds and seas.


Summary of Ranges

Red Parachute

Red Hand

Orange Smoke


attract attention

pin point location

pin point location




day only

Range – Day

8 nautical miles

5 nautical miles

3 nautical miles

Range – Night

25 nautical miles

10 nautical miles


40 seconds

60 seconds

60 seconds

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