Get your card today


Boat Distress Flares: Types and FAQ

November 22, 2021

Flares, also known as pyrotechnic distress signals, are devices boaters can use to call for help in emergency situations. Boats must have a certain number of valid distress flares on board at all times when over 1 nautical mile from shore. Flares must be approved by Transport Canada and must not be expired.

Read on for more information about boat flares!

Types of distress flares

Rocket parachute flares (Type A)

This type of flare has a rocket that launches it 300 m into the air. After the flare reaches its peak height, a parachute deploys and it descends slowly, burning bright red for at least 40 seconds. It can be seen up to 20 nautical miles away, so it can be used to alert rescuers at a considerable distance.

Multi-star flares (Type B)

This type of flare produces two or more bright red stars at intervals of 15 seconds or less. Each star burns for at least 4 seconds. The flare has a maximum height of 100 m and can be seen up to 12 nautical miles away. It can be used to alert rescuers at a considerable distance.

Hand flares (Type C)

These are hand-held red flares that burn for at least a minute. They are more visible from the air than from the surface and are used to signal rescuers who are within a few nautical miles of the vessel.

Smoke signal (Type D)

Smoke signals can be either hand-held or buoyant. The buoyant type emits dense orange smoke for at least 3 minutes in calm water. The hand-held type emits the same kind of smoke for at least a minute. Smoke signals are only effective in daylight.

Distress flare FAQ

How many flares are needed on a boat?

Flares are part of the safety equipment required on boats. The number of flares required depends on the size of the boat.

  • 6 m or less: 3 flares, not counting smoke signals
  • Between 6 m and 9 m: 6 flares, not counting smoke signals
  • Between 9 m and 12 m: 12 flares, at least half of which are not smoke signals
  • Over 12 m: 12 flares, at least half of which are not smoke signals

What is a common feature of all distress flares?

All distress flares are valid for four years after the date they are manufactured. You can find the date stamped on the device. Expired flares must be disposed of according to manufacturer instructions.

Where should distress flares be stored?

Distress flares should be stored vertically in a cool, dry place, ideally a watertight container. It’s important to keep them away from heat sources, flammable liquids and gas. They should be kept close at hand so that they are easily accessible in the event of an emergency.

Learn more about boating from Drive a Boat Canada

Boat distress flares must only be used in emergency situations—it is illegal to use them otherwise. They should be stored carefully and checked regularly to make sure they are in good condition and can be used if needed.

If you’re getting ready to start boating, flares aren’t the only thing you’ll need! By law, boaters are required to have their pleasure craft operator card with them at all times on Canadian waters. Take our online boating exam to get yours today!