Distress Flares

We  need to replace our out of date flares. No, not my 1970’s purple Crimplene trousers but the distress flares on the boat.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Oh its no problem buying a new set, any chandlery will help you part with serious money for some. Its the disposing of the old ones that creates humungous problems. Quite simply no one wants them.
Flares contain explosives. Therefore, once  they are past their expiry date it is essential that out of date flares or Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP) are disposed of carefully.
For the benefit of non boaties, flares come in various forms

  1. Hand held in Red and White
    • bright enough to blind you at close quarters and will give you nasty first degree burns if you are not wearing asbestos gloves and a welding mask. The oven gloves from the galley just won’t cut the mustard.
  2. Parachute flares
    • does exactly what it says on the tin. Shoots a large blob of white hot burning material into the sky which gently floats to earth on a parachute.
  3. Smoke flares
    • yes you’ve got it. Creates a huge amount of foul smelling bright orange smoke. If the wind blows away from you all well and good. However, if it blows towards you, the smoke takes on the attitude of mustard gas. Your eyes will stream and you will be too busy coughing your socks off to notice the approaching helicopter.

It’s illegal to let them off in anything other than an emergency. So you can’t stock pile them for bonfire night and you can’t use them at Glastonbury to find your way back to your tent. Well not unless you fancy having the local SAR’s helicopter give you serious grief. You can’t let them off at sea, the same thing happens with the SARs helicopter but you will  be joined by 2 or 3  lifeboats. The Coastguard is now seriously pissed off

The Big Bang.

A few years ago when we were still novice boaters, we needed to dispose  of some flares. We knew that the coast guard were uninterested so popped into the local police station to ask for some advice.
Remember, they are classified as EXPLOSIVES.
We said to officer that we had a canister of flares in our car boot and could they advise us on how to dispose of them safely. The scenario that unfolded was pure comedy.
The looks on their faces was of horror. It was as if  they had been told we were part of a terrorist cell about to blow Fareham sky high. 2 officers emerged with large fireproof gloves and one of those long grab poles, the type park keepers use to pick up litter. They proceeded to pick up each flare and drop them gingerly into a lead lined box before taking them away.
I  expected to be surrounded by a SWAT team and in addition for  Fareham High Street to cordoned off with an unexploded bomb warning!
Today we no longer have the problem and have replaced all our TEP’s with LED laser flares.
Actually, we do still have a small canister of flares in the garage.
Bring on New Year fireworks and sod the Coastguard.

Signal Flags

Come on own up.  Who has a set of pristine unused signal flags languishing in the bottom of a locker?
Other than the yellow Q flag, how many of the others do you use?  Who can actually  put the correct letter to any of them because quite frankly I don’t have a scooby!!
We only ever use them to “dress” the  boat at special occasions when we festoon the top side with yards of them. I have no idea if they are even the right way up.
The designs of the individual flags are now lost in the mists of time. They were developed separately for various  naval signal codes over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The most famous of all, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was sent by  Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on 21 October 1805.
The signal is still hoisted on HMS Victory in Portsmouth on Trafalgar Day every year. Today however the signal flags are displayed all at once, running from fore to aft, rather than hoisted sequentially from the mizzenmast.

Flag Semaphore

Other flag signalling techniques include  semaphore. This  is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags. Information is encoded by the position of the flags.  It is still used by the Navy even today.
As a Brownie in the 1960’s, I was taught semaphore. Not sure what use it was to a five year old in land locked Nottingham. I just thought it was akin to those rubber stick insects competing in the rhythmic ribbon twirling gymnastics event at the Olympics.
Before semaphore the Admiralty use a system of shutters on a large frame. A series of observation towers passed the message on.
But here is a humbling thought. The next time you are on hold for 30 minutes  listening to “please hold your call IS important to us”, remember this.
In 1796 a  message could be sent from Plymouth to The Admiralty and back to Plymouth with  a reply  in 15 minutes.
No on-hold “Greensleeves”, no dodgy mobile signal, no satellite delay echo and no “please leave your message after the beep”. Just great commmunication
pass me those flags……..