Emergency Flares

Among “items you should carry” when going out on Lake Superior are emergency flares. I have discovered that there are quit a few different flares out there on the market. What type of flares are generaly used by kayakers? Are they used with a flare gun or how do you go about holding them?

Thanks to anyone who helps out!

Most folks I know use

– Last Updated: Apr-27-05 12:11 AM EST –

Skyblazers and carry the minimum (3). Skyblazers are self launching. Some guides I know carry parachute flares. Much more visible. very expensive. IN conditions I'd have to be rafted up or use a paddle float or be swimming to launch a flare with both hands. Since you cannot carry a gun loaded, you will pretty much need two hands to load it up.

Guns are cheaper in the long fun but ti takes a cople of decades to recoup the investment. I carry at least one flare on me on the ocean in a ziplock. Usually two. The extras are in the day hatch.

Ask yourself how will I be seen
Check out the DVD or tape by Wayne Horodowich, Capsize and Recoveries. He shows graphic examples of how feint most flares are in day time, that is how little good they may do, the dangers to the user of some flares, and how they fail to fire off, how hard to use if in trouble etc. Real eye opener.

If your goal is too really be seen and rescued, go with Pains Wessex type parachute flare, as they may actually be seen, orange smoke if closer to shore, and have your VHF radio handy and know how to work it. I seldom give concrete conclusions here as each of our needs is specific to our skills, conditions, preferences, etc. but do check out this video, changed my reality markedly.

The demo on the USK video was an eye-opener for me. I bought a laser flare (now available from REI) but have not been able to test it under “real” conditions.


And Expiration Date
I don’t know about laser types - haven’t sunk for them yet - but stay on top of the expiration dates of any flares too.


– Last Updated: Apr-27-05 1:20 PM EST –

Hi willyboy,

I think that for flares that you can put in a PFD pocket that are "waterproof", the Skyblazers seem to be one of a few limited options. (Make sure and have them on your person so that should you get separated from your boat, you'll have signalling options. You do pack a submersible VHF radio on your person as well, right? This is very likely your most important signaling tool--many kayakers have needlessly died because they were not willing to spend $100 to carry one of these. If you're already aware of this stuff, please excuse me.) Skyblazers do have a history of failure apparently, however, although I read recently that they may have been upgraded. Pack several. Compared to a big parachute flare, Skyblazers are pretty insignificant in their signaling capacity. The parachute flare will go much higher, be much brighter and stay aloft much longer...and cost you more.

I kinda look at this stuff in light of how much would I be willing to spend at that moment when for lack of skills, knowledge, judgement or experience, I've capsized and my boat is floating away in the wind faster than I can swim. This has happened to many, many kayakers and at that point your options become pretty limited. If you don't have reliable signalling devices on your person, you are likely fishbait.

I make a living responding to 911 calls and I routinely see many people who have not considered safety issues and the basic ramifications of their actions or lack therof. Some may say that this safety stuff is too "overboard". But once you are overboard, you'll have a different perspective.

Like the other folks posting here have said, have other options such as smoke flares or water dye markers as well. A Sea-Seat like product to get you out of the water should you get separated from your boat will add hours to your life in 50 degree water. Check out Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble (a $15 book that every sea kayaker should have and read carefully), a book full of incident reviews of fatalities and near fatalities--it really makes you think. http://www.seakayakermag.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=BK-20&Category_Code=SS

Go laser

Check out the web site, Cost aboout the same if one paddles a few years. Since regular flares do expire, better off with a laser that can be seen up to 20 miles, is visable in the day and can be operated by one hand. Yes, the other writer is correct they do not float well on their own, but can be submerged. Only danger is to point it at some one < 13 feet. Common sense by a responsible adult. Great question

V/R Mark

Falcon yellow over White with lots of mud

Laser is VERY limited
It must be aimed at someone!

When your head is all that’s above water - you can’t see very far - barely at all in any waves. Who are you going to aim that thing at - and how are you going to keep it pointed at them consistently enough to signal your distress and bring them to you as the sea tosses you about?

While you use that laser to try to gain the attention of that airplane you CAN see 20 miles off - the 3 boats that are nearby but hidden by the waves won’t see a thing.

Laser flare is cool - but seems like a better land based tool to me. At sea - might be handy to guide a rescue helo in at night - after they were zeroing in on you from radio contact or regular flare sighting.

There is a reason signaling devices are non-directional (visible 360) and launch into up into the air if possible.

Your reservations regarding lasers are valid. But it is not necessary to actually aim the laser - it produces a flat, fan-like pattern that can be swept along the shore. That said, there are concerns about being in the water (low point of view) and being able to shoot the laser over wave tops. No one device is a silver bullet, but after seeing how ineffectual the pencil flares appeared in the USK video I opted for a laser rather than invest in parachute flares for my limited saltwater paddling.


Daytime signaling is hard
I think the real issue is how hard it is to attract attention in the daylight, since that is when most of us do most of our paddling. I bought a strobe when I first started kayaking and tested it out on land near dusk. Let’s just say it isn’t like the ones they put on cell towers. Not to say it is a bad thing to have, but probably not very effective until dark.

The USK video recommends smoke. Don’t forget it is short-lived, though.

I doubt most people have a clue how to aim a signal mirror and it will be hard for anyone in water hanging onto a boat and paddle. I did flag down a boat with one when I was on land once (no emergency I was just across the lake from our camp and they were my coworkers out fishing). The laser flare is probably easier, but you still have to sweep and hope.

Has anyone seen the rescue banners? They are about 20 ft long, 1 ft wide, orange plastic and float. I expect they would be pretty visible in a swell. Come rolled into a tube a bit bigger than a parachute flare. Too big to keep on you, though.

Aside from that and a VHF, I guess you wait for dark.

what they all said,I would suggest that you consider a 30% failure rate a possibility with the little sky blazers,so if you are REALLY depending on them then after the three on you there would be three on the kayak. If you have flares you should have a radio.

Cool Technology
But, by definition a lazer is a focused beam and would have to be aimed requiring that it be held and pointed manually. Not something that you would want to do while in the water in distress. Of just as much importance, the big benefit of an arial flare is that it goes up in the sky dramatically increasing the distance that it can be seen. On the ocean, a lazer, or hand held flare, or clip on/hand held light is only visible to the horizon, which is about seven miles.


Lasers produce concentrated beams

– Last Updated: Apr-30-05 10:55 AM EST –

of intense light, not fan-like patterns. They absolutely must be aimed. If you click the link for this product, you will see very detailed instructions on "how to aim" the laser device using two fingers on the other hand. The instructions also specify "When using any signaling device, ensure that you are in an open area, clear of all obstructions that would hinder others from seeing you."

This device would be a good replacement for a signaling mirror, it would work day or night. It is no substitute for aerial flares.

Sorry Krousman, MarkinNC
While you are right about lasers, in general, you are wrong about Greatland Lasers.

They produce a fan of light which allows them to be swept over a wide area, reducing the need for precise aiming.


Just responding to the misinfo. in your

– Last Updated: Apr-30-05 8:19 PM EST –

post. In your post you state: "But it is not necessary to actually aim the laser"

From the posted link for Greatland lasers:




Point the laser output end (laser aperture) toward the target. Make a "V" with your outstretched hand over the intended target. With the laser held near your eye in line of sight, slowly scan the vertical laser back and forth between your fingers toward the target, making each finger red as you scan. When looking for any retro-reflective materials, point the laser output end (laser aperture) toward the object you are scanning and hold the laser near your line of sight to see the return flash from the object.

5. Move the laser line VERY SLOWLY back and forth across the target (five degrees per second or slower). This type of signaling is referred to as "scanning." The slower the laser is scanned, the further it can be seen.

6. Keep signaling until you have positive contact with your rescuers or target and they are able to see you without the use of a signaling device."

Laser Flare fortification
Flares have a big problem: You can’t tell their origin. Lasers have a big problem: They are strictly line-of-sight (must fully understand the concept).

Laser flares aren’t a signal mirror replacements. They aren’t aerial flare replacements. Their best use is for signal fortification. In other words, you set off a flare to bring in the rescue co. to your rough location, and then you use the laser to hone them in to your exact location.

(fwiw: Rescue “flare” type lasers actually do produce a flared beam. However, close objects like large waves can eclipse the flared beam.)

This debate
has pretty much been going on for many years. I think that the points made by most people are valid. One of the most important points made, I think, is that no single signal device should be considered best or self sufficient.

In my mind, the lazer would be a good replacement for a signal mirror, another point made by someone else. A lazer is a point to point device as is a signal mirror. Smoke, flares, signal lamps, whistles are omni-directional. The former are refered to as “locate” devices where the later are “alert” devices. The USCG suggests that one of each type is carried.

Smoke is the signal device of choise during daylight.

This subject is pretty well covered in Chapmans and a nice side by side comparison is made showing the visibility distance for each of the differant types of signalling devices. (the lazer is not included)

A 25mm parashoot flare winds up as being visible from a much greater distance for a much greater period of time. It is expensive and fairly large so the skyblazer has become very popular, being inexpensive an small.

All that said, the normally accepted prefered arsonal is smoke flares, skyblazers, and a whistle. But, as there are many differant devices each boater makes his own package.


I’d rather have a working
laser flare than a signal mirror any day. Longer visibility, works a night, might put on quite a show in light fog even.

signal morrors are also line of sight, plus the carry the detriment of needing sun and being harder to aim, Their upside is that they do not need bateries.

Jsaults is right about the laser flare
It IS designed to produced a fan-shaped pattern, albeit a narrow one. The idea is to be able to paint a rescue vehicle (land, sea or air) with laser light, rather than having to try to hit it with a laser spot. One thing I have questions about is how well a laser flare will work if it’s wet. Water on the lens could seriously degrade its capabilities.

Sheesh Krousmann
Are you a lawyer? Talk about parsing a statement…

My meaning in my statement regarding aiming was that it does not have to be “directed” at an intended target, but rather swept across the horizon.

Anyways. you were wrong about your first assumption (point source).