Flares are an essential piece of safety equipment when travelling on the water, and you are required by law to have them on board charter vessels. They should be stored in a watertight container, as they will stop working if got wet, and care should be taken to renew them before their best before date.

Flares come in three forms:

  • Handheld Flares
    Handheld flares are for use at close range, but can be seen up to 10 km away on a clear night. They last for about three minutes.
    Appearance : Handhelds come in a thin metal tube and look a little bit like an oversized indelible marker pen. The flare burns with an intense light.
    Safety : You should only hold onto the plastic part of the flare, as the metal tube will become white hot as the flare burns down. Do not look at the flare once lit, as it will hurt your eyes.
    Operation : Hold onto the plastic base. Pull it downwards and twist clockwise, then holding it downwind, push back up into the slot with the base of your palm.
  • Rocket/Parachute Flares
    Rocket flares are used to signal to ships just over the horizon, or to approaching aircraft as a position locater. They do not last for much more than a minute, but can be seen for up to 40km at night.
    Appearance : Rocket flares come in a long cylindrical tube, rather like a Pringles packet, with a plastic cap at both ends. The top and bottom will be clearly marked with embossed letters, for ease of recognition in the dark. This is basically a rocket in a box! Once activated, the rocket propels the flare into the air and the parachute attached to the flare opens and keeps the flare roughly over the target.
    Safety : Rocket flares should be set off upwind, and real care should be taken to ensure the flare is pointing the right way up! (Though this is pretty difficult to get wrong) The rocket makes a very loud whoosh as it goes off, and it is a good idea to try and protect you or your crews ears. If at sea, with no clear evidence of vessels on the horizon, rocket flares should be set off in pairs, a couple of minutes apart. A ship may not be sure if they have seen the signal or not, and sending a second flare up will confirm that they have sighted something.
    Operation : Take off the two plastic caps, ensuring the flare is the right way up. Point the flare either stright upwards or upwind, pull out the safety pin and push the plastic trigger upwards, flat against the side on the container.
  • Smoke Flare
    The smoke flare is for making yourself a conspicuous target when being searched for by rescue craft, be they aircraft or lifeboats. They are only for use in the daytime, as the smoke would be invisible at night. They are visible up to 4km away.
    Appearance : The smoke flare either looks like a handheld, or a squat cylinder. Once operational, the flare billows out a cloud of choking orange smoke.
    Safety : The smoke is pretty unpleasant, so care should be taken that the flare is operated downwind.
    Operation : Handhelds work exactly the same as handheld light flares above. For cannister smoke flares, remove the plastic cap on the base and either pull the pin and throw downwind into the sea, or just throw downwind into the sea. Some flares are activated by the seawater, others need the manual activation. Read the instructions to be sure which type you have!

Flares also come in two colours, apart from the smoke flare, which is always orange. Red flares mean Distress, and should be used if you are in a Mayday situation. White flares are used to signal your position to other vessels in the event of being run down. The white rocket flares can also be used at night to light up the area if you have lost someone overboard.

All flares come with operating instructions printed on the side. Familiarise yourself with their operation if you are often on the water, as they may save your life in an emergency. Always report to the coastguard if you are going to use flares on manoevures, and let the coastguard know when you have finished, just in case there is a real emergency.


Sources: Royal Yachting Association saftey procedures, personnal experience!

Flares is a chain of late bars-cum-nightclubs that can be found in most major towns and cities in the UK.

What sets Flares apart from the other establishments out there is the fact that it's a seventies theme bar. This is first apparent from the typically disco-type scenery one is confronted with on entry to the bar, with bright, groovy colours and strange curvy shapes for things like door handles and windows.

As might be expected, the music primarily consists of period 70s disco music from the likes of The Jackson Five, The Bee Gees, Rose Royce et al. This is occasionally broken up with some more modern cheese music. (That is, even more music that's only cool so long as fifty other like-minded fools are dancing along to it.) Of course, there is never any shortage of people to dance when the night gets going, indeed, even the DJs can be known to get involved and get a good dance going.

It isn't all gruelling dancing though, as the Flares in my university city of Sheffield at least, holds various fun and games, such as the space hopper race across the dance floor, the winner of which gets a bottle of "champagne". Also up for grabs for good dancers are other goodies like silver top hats, Flares badges and goodie bags.

One might think that because of the heavy emphasis on the 1970s that Flares might be crawling with forty-somethings with bad dress sense and even worse dance sense. This is sometimes true but since quite a few branches of Flares hold student nights, Flares is quite often the place to go for younger people. A student night in Flares seems to really be about having a good time and not just about getting leathered or seeing how many members of the opposite sex you can get off with, which is quite a refreshing change. In smaller towns and cities however, expect to see an inundation of wrinklies or youths of questionable age. There are usually doormen at branches of Flares that can range from being very pleasant to gorilla-like duff merchants.

Whilst on an ordinary night Flares can be just as cruel on the wallet as any other bar, student nights are very reasonably priced, with selected drinks being just a pound each. The very nice sambucca, sadly, remains at £1.50 a shot though.

On a busy night Flares will stay open right the way through until 2 AM. However this doesn't mean you can only go to Flares as a stand-alone night-out, in fact, quite the contrary as Flares can also make a very good up-beat pre-bar as well. For those who find the 70s feeling a bit too retro for them, Flares can usually be found nearby to another chain that is run by the same company, Reflex, that is an 80s theme bar.

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