I want to purchase some signal flares for boat and vest carry. I was leaning toward the Orion 12 gauge flare gun but after speaking to someone this weekend, I am looking at the Orion Skyblazer, hand-held variety. Any input?

Have you thought about the laser flares?
I am not 100% sure what their official status is now with the Coast Guard, but it’s hard to beat them for something that can be seen well at night and is easy to carry. My husband’s has withstood lots of dunking with no problem, mine finally bit the dust but it took three seasons. And it may be that the larger one is more robust - I got the smaller size.

Of course for day it probably means carrying a signal mirror - but compact and not having to get real fussy about storage is nice.

Looks like a good idea
but seems to be an addition to, as opposed to a replacement for standard signal flares. According to their site and the product description, they’re only good for “line of sight” signaling while pyro-technic flares are visible over the horizon.

Thanks for the input though, very interesting stuff!

I shot off one skyblazer for practice a while back and found that it had about maybe 3 good seconds of actual blaze in the sky.

I’d carried it around in my vest pocket inside a plastic bag through many a dunking for a couple years and it still worked.

It was easy to fire.

But you gotta wonder if anybody would really notice it when you need it.

A test review article that might help

lasers are to flares
as telephones are to VHF

Thanks for the link to article
Seemed like a good article. Tells the story.


Pains Wessex

Expensive and tougher to get hold of but if you actually want it to work instead of just keeping the CG happy…There is a reason they are popular choice for offshore life rafts etc.

Also flares are best used when
there is some one in the area that will see them. Just shooting them off and hoping is not the way to go. You have a limited supply and you need to be sure they will be seen when launched. If you want longer time then you need to look at parachute flares.

tough to get ahold of
Tough to get ahold of? Where do you find them, Indian reservations? I’ve never found them for sale in the US. Would love to find a source.

I got discouraged . . .
I had a lot of experience with flares in Vietnam - especially as an aviator using flares at night for reference on landing. In my experience, flares worked and generally could be relied on - even the S&R pen gun flares we carried, in case we got shot down.

Switch to civilian life. Many years later - actually last year - I did a lot of online research on the flares typically commercially available to us paddlers. I finished extremely disappointed and totally discouraged from buying any flares, for the time being, as they were represented as generally unreliable. Based on a number of reviews and tests, my discovery was that the flares available can be expected to NOT work in a rescue situation - especially those Orion ones!

I am very open to informed and experienced feedback on this genre of flares. I can tell you from the perspective of the guy in the cockpit that a brief 3-second flare on the horizon is practically useless, except to get some sense of a heading to take in the direction of the victims . . . that is, if you get the aircraft turned and on course before that 3-second flare burns out!

I am wondering if laser flares might be a better option. Even the pen gun flares we had were better than the flares typically carried by paddlers.

I don’t know how the Coast Guard can approve what’s out there commercially! It reminds me of the reliability of the FDA in approving pharmaceuticals.

So, besides the OP, now there are at least two of us looking for a source for reliable flares, or devices of equivalent function.

Will they work…
I am concerned with the reliability of the Orion and the recent problems. Watch out for the expiration date of 3-4 years. We shoot expired flares off at a gathering every year with permission from the local authorities. The Orions are 1 out of 4 at best. The pistol is much better. I currently have the Orions in a Pelican 1010 case in my PFD with the pistol flare in a dry case. I carry a mirror and flashlight in my PFD also.

flares and kayaks
Couple problems with most tests of flares is they are generally tested on fairly large boats, not in the confined cockpit of a kayak. The odds are pretty good that if you need to be firing a flare that the weather won’t be ideal and playing around with a handheld flare will be at best difficult if not impossible. I much prefer 12 gauge pistol shot flares. Yes they don’t burn as long nor go as high as some others, but they are fairly small and you can carry more in numbers than you could for most other flares. Most of the problems people have with flares is they run out of them before someone comes looking. The 12 gauge flares are also relatively inexpensive.

Bill H.

Here are three US sources
Mr. Jerry Hamby

120 Pintail Street Saint Rose LA 70087-402

Postal Code: 70087-4024


Tel: +1 504 496 0151

Web Site: www.alexanderryan.com

Email Address: jrh@armsnola.com

Opening Hours:

Monday - Friday: 08:00 - 17:00

Saturday: Closed

Sunday: Closed

Mr. Bruce Becker


Postal Code: 94133


Tel: 0014156731923

Web Site: www.comarsf.com

Email Address: comarsf@aol.com

Opening Hours:

Monday - Friday: 07:00 - 16:00

Saturday: 09:00 - 17:30

Sunday: 09:00 - 16:00

Mr. John Ryan


Postal Code: 77011-1218


Tel: 0017139231671

Web Site: www.alexanderryan.com

Email Address: johnr@alexanderryan.com

Opening Hours:

Monday - Friday: 07:00 - 16:00

Saturday: Closed

Sunday: Closed

landfall navigation
You can get them from Landfall Navigation (print catalog, and online).

They’re not cheap and they’re large, but the performance of these SOLAS approved flares is apparently head and shoulders above USCG-approved varieties.

My take-home messages from that Boat-US report are that the Skyblazers I carry are fairly effective and work well at night, and secondly that I should carry a floating smoke cannister for daytime signalling.

Anyone here carry smoke?

Orion Skyblazer reliability
My impression was that there were problems with the first generation of Skyblazers not firing, but that the issues were supposed to be fixed with the Skyblazer II now sold.

I carry four in my PFD pocket, sealed in an “aloksak” bag. They stay totally dry, and I feel confident that they’ll work if needed.

The problem with the 12-ga guns is that you can’t carry them on your body. Maybe the best combo would be to carry a couple SOLAS parachute self-launched flares and smoke in the day hatch, and skyblazers on your body.

No smoke on the water…
:slight_smile: and no stairway to heaven either…


Orion Pocket Rocket

– Last Updated: Jan-26-10 10:26 AM EST –

I have just started carrying this compact flare kit. It could be likened to a simple flare gun for kayakers.
It seems ideally suited for storage in your pfd or kayak (whether they are readily accessible!). I use a small dry bag rather than the provided plastic container. I haven't fired off any expired ones, so I cannot provide any performance data.


The Boat-US report found that using these on a larger pleasure boat was difficult. I wonder if it would be possible at all when swimming in the water, or hanging onto a kayak.

Could you get the little flare cartridge out without dumping the others in the water, screw it onto the launcher with gloved and/or cold fingers, and operate the tricky trigger?

That article did not leave me wanting to depend on the pen-launcher flares.