Thursday, 16 April 2009


...are a pretty hot topic of conversation at the moment. The MCA has announced that they are withdrawing the white illuminating parachute flares previously used for search and rescue by their officers on patrol. This will mean that the only pyrotechnic routinely carried by Coastguard Officers are orange smoke generators for marking potential landing sites for rescue helicopters. This will then leave the MCA in the odd position of no longer being a significant user of pyrotechnics, but still being the organisation which is turned to by recreational sea-goers to dispose of their old ones.

Understandably, the MCA is no longer happy to act as the receiver of out of date flares (and they have never been under any statutory obligation to do so) due to the risk of handling them, the logistical difficulties and also the cost. Indeed, their hand is being forced as they have historically used the MOD to actually effect the destruction of these flares and the MOD, which has become more commercially minded itself, is reluctant to continue providing this service.

So Peter Cardy, the Chief Exec of the MCA, has opened up the debate and asked the question, ‘do recreational sea-goers need flares at all’? And it’s a tricky question to answer. Most rescues are initiated electronically (VHF, Mobile, EPIRB etc) and not by flares. However, flares more commonly play their part in the later stages of a rescue when they act as an aid to identifying the exact location of a casualty. Could this perhaps be done using other means? Perhaps Lasers or Strobes?

And what about us as Lifeboat crew? As ever, there has been some confusion about our position in the press. However, we continue to carry and use a pretty wide variety of pyrotechnics. Orange smokes for marking locations, white parachute flares for illumination, red flares for distress, white flares for attracting attention, rocket lines for firing lines across gaps and of course our personal issue ‘day and night’ flares carried on our Lifejackets. The only area where there has recently been a change in what we use has been the use of Maroons which we now seldom fire.

So, if you’d like to add to the debate, feel free to comment here and I’ll pass the comments on to Peter Cardy.


Rick said...

And just to amplify why the RNLI severely restricts the use of Maroons, because I almost never see it mentioned that the risk is tragicly real:

On 1 Sept 1991 Coxswain Benny Reed of the, non-RNLI, Caister Independent Lifeboat went to fire the Maroons to back up the pager call for a 'shout'. One of them exploded, causing fatal chest injuries.


Anonymous said...

John, I am led to believe that Pains Wessex have stopped manufacturing maroons, and Speedlines. The remaining flares are soon to be made in Germany, and badge engineered.....

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any idea what the MCA are proposing as a replacement illumination tool? Certainly Dragon lights etc. don't do the same job and I can't see them splashing out on PNG or monoculars

Was there not an incident with the Torbay Lifeboat a few years ago (late 90's?) when a maroon fired to back up a pager shout veered seriously off course and went through an OAP ladies window?

I could see it happening quite easily (the station is at the base of a cliff so the maroon reached above cliff height but not as far up into the sky as normal).