Disposing of your unused flares safely

Alistair Hackett, managing director of Ocean Safety, advises why flares need to be disposed of correctly, and to go about doing so.

The majority of distress flares carried on board all types of vessels are never likely to be used.  They are, after all, only for an emergency, and it is, in fact, illegal to let them off for any other reason.

Flares contain explosives and are therefore potentially dangerous if used incorrectly or stored for too long after their expiry date, which might be typically three or four years.

It is also illegal to dump flares at sea or anywhere on the land or to dispose of them in the bin.

Therefore large quantities of unused flares have to be disposed of and replaced, and it is not always clear to boat owners how this should be done.

Some time ago carriage and storage of flares were regulated by the MoD’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams who collected out-of-date flares from HM Coastguard centres and other collection points. This is no longer guaranteed, although a number of HM Coastguard centres will still take flares – but not all.


It is best to check who will take your flares when they become out-of-date when you buy them.  Chandleries and other safety suppliers will sometimes take them back themselves or provide disposal information at the time of purchase. Safety equipment suppliers like Ocean Safety will also take flares back from purchasers at their Southampton, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Plymouth branches.

Ocean Safety, which disposes of some 10,000kgs of explosives every year, like others, has a contract with a commercial disposal company which will decommission and recycle flares in a controlled environment. The company also has a nationwide network of liferaft servicing agents that will take back flares that were originally bought from them.


Ocean Safety’s Alistair Hackett said: “We are aware of how vital it is to get the message out to flare owners about just how important it is to dispose of them legally and safely. There is plenty of evidence that boat owners find it tempting to hang on to flares well past their sell-by date as well, either through a reluctance to spend more money or because they are not carrying out regular date and condition checks. It is dangerous to ignore expiry dates.”

It is also worth checking if your local port or marina will accept flares as they may have disposal arrangements. Some police and fire stations will also still accept flares but, it is important to ask them and not just leave the flares there without authorisation. It is worth checking with your local council too.

Commercial organisations disposing of flares usually have a contract with a specialist hazardous waste disposal company.


If you want to understand more about flares, how to use them, which sort to choose for your boating activities and how to store or dispose of them, Ocean Safety runs regular Flare Awareness Courses. Give them a call on 02390 720800 or email info@oceansafety.com.