Latest on Laser Flares?

I was given an ad for a pocket-sized laser flare, and was reminded that prices are definately going down on these things since I first heard about them. But before I jump, does anyone know the skinny on how they are currently regarded by the Coast Guard? Approved or not, restrictions for use in harbor areas, that kind of thing?


They’re interesting

I saw them recently. I don’t think they’d work too well during the day.

I wonder if you’d get arrested as a terrorist for shining it at your rescue aircraft.

Stay tuned
Ihope to run some tests at Raystown next week.


not blind yet

Look like good money to me
Looks like you can get one starting around $100. It should last you years, can be used multiple, multiple times (though hopefully will never be used)

Contrast that to a solas parachute flare, can only be used once, has to be replaced every 4 years, and costs $45. Or a hand flare isn’t visible as far, especially when you are right on the water like us paddlers, burns only a minute, must be replaced every 4 years, and costs $20.

Apples and oranges
They look like nice tools to have - but they are directional and have to be actively operated. They should not be looked at as a replacement for conventional flares.

Pencil and para flares can be seen 360 and don’t require you to to aim them and sweep them to paint a target. You pop them off and get back to the business of staying alive.

It could be very difficult to use those laser flares effectively in rough water, or if injured, etc. Clearly designed with little thought to paddlers needs (not much is).

Still cool - and if you like toys - get one of these too. More options better than less.

Please Post
the results. I would be interested.

It seems to me that they have to be line of site and would therefore more correctly be thought of as a signal lamp as opposed to an omni-directional signal flare.

The para-flares are very pricey but provide the greatest visibility when you need it. They are also fairly large and therefore dont lend themselves to yakers. There is a nice chart in Chapmans which shows the relative site distance for each type of signaling device, (the new led is not shown).

I dont normally paddle in areas that I would need flares and I wind up not carrying them often. When I do go offshore, (rarly so far), I carry a pack of sky blasers. These are fairly small and a partial compromise between a hand held flare and a para flare.



– Last Updated: Oct-07-05 11:04 AM EST –

Rutabaga has then for $80, which is a lot less than they were two years ago.

Also, while I would still always carry regular flares, I am not sure that the lasers wouldn't be easier to use. With regular flares you have a choice between trying not to burn your hand with the short, PFD-storable ones or having to dig into some kind of dry storage to get out a longer one and/or a flare gun. If I was injured and in the water to boot, unable to get back into my boat due to the injury, I am hard pressed to figure out anything that would be easier to access and use than a laser flare stored in a PFD pocket.

That's why I'd love to know what the Coast Guard thinks of these. It seems that in the worst case scenario they may be the only thing that'll provide accessible and persistent light.

Check out the flare demo
on Wayne Horodowich’s “Capsize Recoveries and Rentries” vidio.

You’ll be amazed at how difficult they are to see during the day.

As a result of that video, I bought a flare gun because the handheld flares were almost worhtless during the day.

A friend has a laser flare and we tested it on the water. From a distance of about a quarter of a mile, it was very difficult to see, and I was looking for it.

IMHO, it’s not going to replace flares. Even better than a flare for daytime use is a smoke. I carry several of these in my emergency kit. It’s rather difficult to not see a big cloud of orange smoke.

How visible is the smoke in a 30-knot wind?

Then again
They are no substitute for situations where you are trying to catch the attention of anyone who might possibly be in the area, but don’t see a specific target whose attention you want to get. Though in ocean survival training I took as a sea scout we were told unless you had a decent supply of flares, not to waste your flares in this manner until you saw or heard a vessel, or were insight of a shoreline with developments. How many aerial flares does the average kayaker carry, especially in his pfd?

In that situation, when you don’t have a specific target, but hope someone will see your flare, I don’t consider handheld flares to be adequate, but I know people who only carry handheld flares.

The way I see it, the laser flare is far superior to a handheld flare and a signalling mirror, and could be used in place of both.

It cannot take the place of an aerial flare in instances when you would send one up hoping someone in the area would see it, but could take the place of an aerial flare in instances when you would send one up to get the attention of a specific vessel or aircraft you can see and aim at. Having the laser flare to use when you sight a vessel would also give you peace of mind to think you won’t totally be wasting your aerial flare as a general signal to anyone who might be within sight of it.

Totally agree
on the worthlessness of handheld flares. I think the one thing that these laser flares might comfortably replace is signalling mirrors. I think a parachute flare will always be the best signalling device, and orange smoke is good too.

Laser vs. Signal Mirror
That’s a much better comparison, with the laser’s effectiveness at night and in cloudy conditions giving it the obvious edge there. In full sunlight - mirror. If forced to choose, the answer again seems to be: Both.

USCG contacts
Regarding USCG approval, you might try calling your nearest USCG Marine Safety Office. If you are upstate NY, it’s probably Buffalo.

Multiple factors, they may have a place!
Due to the multipe needs in being seen and rescued they may indeed have a place in the arsenal. Cell phone, VHF, orange smoker 5 minutes you can throw int he water, paine wessex 1000 meter parachute flare, are mine, along with reflective tape a stern light, man overboard function on GPS for last position fix.

Most important and neglect topic is can you rig some of these into a waist or pfd pouch so when separated from you boat you are still capable of being rescued, and can you operated all these things while tossed about in big conditions.

Always try or simulate all these conditions, that is th ticket.

Signal device ?
Has anyone given any thought to using a Mylar balloon filled with helium. Preferable big enough to lift a small strobe light. Maybe someone could use one of those refillable spray paint cans to hold enough helium to inflate the balloon. Then inflate and tether it 50ft or so above your boat, should make a good radar reflector as well as a visual aid. Just a idea for those of you who like to make things.

A couple problems with balloon
1. Wind

2. Entanglements (see: Wind, variable. Also: Capsizes, Rolling…)

The aluminized mylar should reflect OK. Same stuff as those “Space Blankets”.

Laser flares are not

– Last Updated: Oct-08-05 11:44 PM EST –

USCG approved. You can go to the following link: to find out what is.

After reading up on these, it seems they are supposed to look like a red flashing light when waved back and forth. Emergency stobes are WHITE, not red. It does not flash SOS either, which to be honest with you, won't do you much good nowadays as they are sending me kids who do not know what an SOS sounds like, much less what it looks like.

These flares are one directional only. If a CG asset is searching for you and the only thing you have is a laser flare, you'd better hope you are pointing it DIRECTLY at that assest, head on, or they will not see it. The company states that these are better than pyro flares. Kind of hard to use the fist method (used to assist in determining the position of the flare in relation to the person reporting it) when the signal does not rise up. These laser flares should really not be used as a substitute. If you want to add them on, cool, but one should have the approved items as well, to at least initiate the search.

As a replacement for pyro flares, these things make about as much sense as that damn Hummingbird VHF-FM handheld radio they came up with a few years back. It sends out an automatic SOS signal if you key it up long enough without saying anything. The CG had that thing yanked real quick.

Of course, that's just my opinion ;)

Difficulty of using it in conditions

– Last Updated: Oct-09-05 6:07 AM EST –

Several reputable sources in Maine say they do work, with the following cautions, and strengths:

In heavy seas your laser flare is BELOW wave height and will not be seen by ground search.

In heavy weather, you will have a hard time holding it and staying afloat with on hand on the paddle, a problem not unique to this device it must be said

Battery dependent so salt water leakage, discharge, and ease of getting to it and not losing it all essential for its use.

All that said, it may be very effective in situations in which long range spotting of you is required and you can signal many times intermittantly, increasing the chance someone will see it.

It also has the strength, like an orange smoke flare of being picked up by infra red/ and night vision equipment in rescue aircraft and ships.

It is small and the better units look very sturdy and submersible.

I plan to include it in my kit. I understand it is approved by the Coast Guard for emergencies. If wrong please share your souce, I am ALWAYS open to being corrected and learning new things here, thanks in advance.

Signal mirrors can also be very effective, especially the very best ones which are MARKEDLY better and most are really toys.

My source

– Last Updated: Oct-09-05 7:31 AM EST –

that they aren't CG approved is the fact that they do not say USCG approved anywhere on their website. That's like having a Superbowl without the sponsorship of the NFL. It must say USCG approved. Now, -if- it is, then it should be listed on the package it came in. Is it? Does anyone know? I find it very odd that nowhere on their site, even in the testimonials, does it say USCG approved. It's also not listed in the link I provided above.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure these things are a great thing to -add- to your emergency kit, however, as a -replacement- for pyro flares?That's a pretty bold statement by the company. I would like to see their statistics.

Of course, that's just my opinion ;)

Heard a Mayday call today.
There was a vessel taking on water at a rate of 15 gallons/minute. They did not have a GPS on board, but did have a radio and flares.

The CG kept asking if they had an orange smoke or dye marker so they could be found.

Unfortunately, all they had was the aerial flares and I lost contact before hearing if they were rescued.