Assuming we’ve all taken our boaters safety courses (most states require a course or a license at this point), we all know with very few exceptions that the USCG requires all vessels to keep and maintain distress flares.
Nearly every boat we buy comes with a pack of flares tucked away somewhere.
They always have one thing in common - they are ALWAYS expired.
Typically flares are only good for 42 months from manufacturer’s date. Well, they are probably “good” for much longer, but expire nonetheless in 42 months.
Since many of our boats are older classic Whalers, I’m always entertained by checking these expirations dates!
I can honestly say that I am far more shocked when these flares are not expired, than when they expired sometime in the early ‘90s!
Here are two of my favorite flare examples…
The gray box of flares pictured came with a boat we purchased last year. They appear to be U.S. Navy Vietnam Era flares, expiring in 1969! The case is full, I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but they certainly are cool.
A few years earlier we bought a 25’ Boston Whaler Outrage from a lady in Virginia Beach, at close to 70, she was elegant and quite attractive. As a younger woman, no doubt stunning, she had been a flight attendant and married an airline pilot.
The once beautiful Whaler had belonged to her late husband, he bought her new in 1982 and the boat was his pride and joy.
By the time we showed up, it was really more of a Boston Whaler rescue than anything else. The boat had not seen action in many years and had really gone down hill, the trailer was rough too, with the tires completely off the rims, and sinking into the soft soil below.
It took a large rollback truck with a talented operator just to get her out of that back yard!
I enjoyed hearing the stories that she shared of the boat’s glory years. “This was the first 25 Outrage sold in Virginia” she told me quite proudly.
—This is about flares, just bear with me. My friends have always accused me of telling long stories.—
She also told me about the long weekend fishing trips to the Eastern Shore that she and her late husband would take, camping out under the stars in that 25 foot center console Boston Whaler.
He had named the boat after her, and I remember her main concern, which I couldn’t promise, was that her name - in large, red script - not be removed from the sides of the boat.
She gave me quite a few things that “went with the boat”, a pretty cool flare gun amongst them. It was old, and built like a quality firearm.
After doing some research it turned out to be a World War II German Military flare gun, manufactured by Walther, it had that familiar German Eagle stamp on one side. The gun was in excellent condition, though obviously used, and no doubt a souvenir brought back to the U.S. after the war.
It was a neat piece of history and would have been a welcome addition to my collection, but I didn’t feel right keeping it. The flare gun is now in her son's collection where it belongs.
I can’t seem to find the pictures I took of that flare gun, but I did include a picture of “Rose Marie”.
Most of the time while clearing and cleaning out an older boat the best you’ll find is an old rusty fish cleaning knife, a spool of monofilament line and a few rusty hooks hidden in places that you least expect.
Back to flares..
Behind inadequate PFDs, one of the most common violations/tickets written by the Coast Guard / marine patrol is for expired or lack of flares.
For more information on the use of and different types of flares I recommend visiting the BoatUS website or the USCG.
YCM - a different kind of boat dealer
*If anyone would like to fire off a flare from 1969, I’d like to watch, from a distance…