Distress Flares

Distress Flares

Distress flares are mainly for use at sea, but they do have uses in the mountains too, though limited

Distress Flares 

Distress Flares

Distress flares are mainly used in a maritime situation and are likely to be of limited use in the mountains due to topography and poor weather/visibility as altitude increases.    

Types of Flare

There are three main types of distress flare, being:


Set off and held in the hand; red for night and orange smoke flare for daytime, and burn for about 60 seconds.  Red handhelds can also be used in the day.


Orange smoke flares are standard kit for rescue teams as they are favoured by rescue helicopter pilots to pinpoint casualty location during the day. They also give the helicopter pilot vital information about wind speed and direction.



Personal/pen/mini flares also come in red and are launched into the air by a spring loaded pen, which forces a canister to explode into the sky.   They go off with a bang and rise to approx 50 metres and can be seen up to 6 miles away in daylight and 10 miles at night.



Rocket/parachute flares are set off from the hand, can reach a height of 350metres (about 1,000ft), and burn for about 40 seconds.  For a one use device, such flares are heavy, weighing in an approx 400 grams

At night, use of a good torch may have as good an effect for location as a flare, given that it will last for more than 40 seconds. However, personal/rocket flares have that initial height (can be seen from further afield), a bang, which may grabbing attention if there's anyone around. 

All flares have an expiry date, typically 3 years from purchase.

For mountain use, there are better things that you could spend your money on, and carry, other than flares.


Flares must not be used near Search & Rescue helicopters at night, as they will seriously compromise the effectiveness of Night Vision equipment.