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Flare Flashpoint

Published By: Jonathan Lee

Elliott Shuchat, an experienced boater living in the Thousand Islands region, submitted the following letter to Boating Business regarding his concerns about the environmental impact of pyrotechnic flares. Now he is lobbying Transport Canada to change its policies surrounding the mandatory signaling devices it requires boaters to carry aboard their vessels.

Dear Boating Business,

Each year I spend two weeks of my holidays enjoying a cruise with my wife and kids, leading us to the beautiful waters of Ontario’s Thousand Islands, or occasionally, Lake Champlain in
New York.

This year, I learned of the SOS Distress Light made by Weems and Plath, which the US Coast Guard now officially recognizes as an acceptable signaling device for use by American recreational boaters.

As an experienced Canadian boater, I have long been purchasing pyrotechnic flares that Transport Canada requires all vessel operators to have on board. As you can imagine, I’ve been accumulating a stockpile of them in my garage over the years as I’ve replaced hard-to-dispose-of old flares with new ones to remain compliant. As my boats have become progressively larger over the years, I’ve required even more flares, compounding the problem. Flares expire after four years and can cost boaters hundreds of dollars to replace.

Having taken a Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons safety course, I was advised that we are not allowed to set off pyrotechnic flares in order to practice how to use them, and when they expire, there are limited options for their disposal.

So, I have reached out to Transport Canada and requested the abolition of the requirement of pyrotechnic flares as well as recommended the adoption of electronic LED beacons, which offer illumination lasting dozens of hours.
In opposition to the mandatory stocking of pyrotechnic flares, I argue that the lack of user experience with such signaling devices could actually cause an emergency situation to further deteriorate. For instance, imagine your vessel experiences trouble with its fuel system. Would setting off a flare improve safety or place the boater at further risk?
 
If people are unable to practice using these devices, there’s a greater risk of them being used improperly. Additionally, if the captain has his hands full addressing a problem, he or she may have to delegate their spouse, friend or child to ignite a flare.

Flares also feature fairly short burn duration. In some cases they only last a several seconds to few minutes (if they employ a parachute). A light, by contrast, can signal for help for many hours and poses no burn risk.

Then there is the environmental factor. With potentially thousands of Canadian boaters improperly retiring expired flares year after year in bilges, boathouses or even the garbage, we run the risk of contaminating landfills or even groundwater.

Transport Canada’s Quebec City office initially replied to my letter that simply stated: “pyrotechnics distress signals and flares required by these regulations (Canada Shipping Act 2001), have to meet the standards of safety equipment approved by the Minister of Transport of Canada. Therefore the equipment approved by the US Coast Guard cannot be acceptable in Canada.”
 
Essentially, they told me exactly what I already knew. I reiterated my concerns in a very crisp second letter and received the following response: “[Transport Canada] will ask at a national level if there is an initiative that would modify (as written) the actual regulation.”

I am not involved in this issue for any financial gain but I do enjoy networking for public fundraising initiatives that support good causes. So, I put my skills to work. In addition to Transport Canada, I’ve reached out to Peter Trogdon, President of Weems and Plath, expressing my concern and desire to initiate a change. I have also reached out to my local MP as well as the Honourable Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Transport.

Since then, I have posted my concerns on four separate Facebook boating pages to raise awareness about this issue. I have achieved some marginal interest, but not the desired effect of having others take up the cause in their respective regions.

The boating season is upon us and the timing to take a closer look into this issue has arrived. I remain hopeful that raising attention around this issue may ultimately help other boaters in the future.

Since Boating Business May/June published Shuchat’s letter, Gord Brown, MP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes has introduced a Motion to the House of Commons requesting that the transport committee review the need for flares on board pleasure craft.

“Modern technology has provided alternatives for the carriage of flares on board small pleasure craft,” Brown says. “Last year for example, the United States approved a flashing electronic signal to replace flares, if boaters so choose.”

Find out more about Shuchat's efforts at https://www.change.org/p/marc-garneau-amend-small-vessel-regulations-to-allow-for-the-use-of-electronic-led-beacons-as-flares/u/20597090

For more information on Brown's Motion visit: http://www.gordbrownmp.ca/media/riding-news/gord-brown-introduces-motion-to-study-use-of-flares-on-board-pleasure-craft