A consultation has been launched by the UK Government to look at how sailors dispose of out-of-date flares. The public have until 15 March 2021 to respond

Proposals to stop recreational sailors from disposing of their out of date flares through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have been unveiled by the UK Government.

Currently, the MCA spends £250,000 a year to provide a free flare disposal service at 18 designated sites around the country.

It has a contract with a commercial ordnance company, which will end in December 2021.

When the service was first launched, the MCA received around 60,000 flares per year; in 2018, they received only 12,000.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has now launched a consultation into the issue and is recommending that the MCA ‘withdraw from the offer of (flare) disposal’ for recreational sailors, although it will still dispose of illegally dumped flares.

A flare being put into water

A flare cannot be extinguished, even in water, until it has run out of fuel. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Instead, the DfT favours a ‘polluter pays principle’ with industry being asked to provide a range of disposal options for sailors. This would be voluntary.

The DfT said the consultation would examine the cost of disposal, who would pay for it and how any system would operate.

It acknowledged that there wasn’t a ‘one size fits all solution’ to the issue.

Only coded boats and boats over 45ft are required to carry flares in the UK, although many cruising sailors also carry them.

In March 2020, the MCA published Marine Informational Notice (MIN) 542, renewing its advice to yacht owners to carry pyrotechnic flares for use in an emergency, rather than Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS).

It stressed there were no known EVDS which were compliant with SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974) technical performance standards.

A man holding a pyrotechnic flare and a Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS).

The MCA advice to yacht owners is to carry pyrotechnic flares for use in an emergency, rather than Electronic Visual Distress Signals (EVDS). Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

The RYA, which has campaigned for the MCA to reconsider its advice on pyrotechnic flares due to the difficulty of disposal, their limited shelf life and the inability to test them, said the DfT’s consultation was ‘a missed opportunity’ for a debate on flare use.

It says DSC VHF, Personal Locator Beacons and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons are better at alerting distress.

The RYA’s cruising manager, Stuart Carruthers said recreational sailors who choose to carry flares should accept that they need to pay for their disposal, but those who are ‘compelled’ to by the MCA should still be able to access the current disposal arrangements.

He added that if industry could make money out of the disposal of flares then it would have done so already.

‘What happens if the industry won’t provide a disposal service, especially as it is not being legally compelled to do so? If this consultation goes through and the DfT’s preferred option is introduced then we could be left without an MCA run disposal service at the same time as the MCA is compelling people to carry flares. The industry wont fill the gap,’ he stated.

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But some in the industry have hit back, arguing they don’t want to make money out of disposal. Instead, a disposal scheme just needed to be cost effective.

The director of global marketing and communications for the flare manufacturer and supplier WestCom Signal and Rescue, Chris Feibusch said it supported a commercially viable self-funding solution to disposal, but stressed there was ‘no one simple solution but a blend of options’.

He said disposal was expensive because when a flare becomes out of date it becomes a different hazard class, making it difficult to transport and handle.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for the hazard class classification.

Men in a liferaft, with a lit flare

Only coded yachts or boats over 45ft are required in the UK to carry flares for use in an emergency

Feibusch said the current hazard class for out of date flares (TEPs) was ‘excessive’, and that flares were ‘inherently safe devices if stored and used correctly, even if they are out of date’.

‘With the HSE involved in the consultation hopefully the hazard class issue will be addressed which would change things dramatically so chandleries would be able to take out of date flares back and we would support this,” he said.

Feibusch added that the consultation should focus on the disposal of flares and not raise questions about their use, stressing that flares were a ‘critical safety device and nothing currently existed which replaced a flare’s function.’

‘Fundamentally, sailors need flares, they are a critical safety item and they are not going anywhere. This consultation is not an opportunity to raise questions about flares as a safety device. It is to look at how to responsibly deal with disposal,’ he said.

Rubicon 3 offers adventure sailing and training on coded yachts.

Its co-founder, Rachael Sprot said she would welcome a more structured approach to the disposal of flares, having had difficulties in the past.

‘I accept the cost, as long as it is reasonable, after all people do sailing for fun and there is no reason the taxpayer should be subsidising that,’ she added

The consultation ends on 15 March 2021. Details at: www.yachtingmonthly.com/flaredisposal

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