Flares: Aerial or Handheld?
By Don Casey
Revised by BoatUS editors in April 2012
Are aerial flares better than handheld? Not necessarily. A 12-gauge aerial flare reaches an altitude of around 250', making it visible over a much longer distance than a handheld flare only a few feet above the water. But the meteor burns out in just six seconds while some handhelds burn for three minutes.
The best choice for you depends on where you do your boating. If you are almost always in sight of shore or other boats, hand-held flares have a better chance of drawing attention because of their longer burn time. If you boat well offshore, aerial flares can signal your distress over greater distances. Safety-conscious skippers carry both, plus smoke flares for daylight signaling.
Parachute flares combine high altitude with long burn times, making them the most effective nighttime distress signal.