Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Expired flares.

Most boaters know they need flares for their boat, so they buy them. 

Did you know most flares expire in 3 1/2 years? We had about a dozen expired flares, most expired about 10 years prior. We bought newer flares and kept the old ones in case we burned through our current flares in an emergency.

But if we ever did need them for an emergency, would they light? We weren’t sure. Nor were we sure we knew how to light one if the need arose.

Ken, Stacey, T, and Harold kindly invited us to their toasty 4th of July beachside campfire.

We decided we’d kill two birds with one stone, finding out how to light our flares and seeing if 10-year-old expired flares were viable. What better time to set off pyrotechnics than the 4th of July? What better place than over a relatively deserted beach, and over the Columbia River? 

We checked in with the few fellow boaters around the area. When they checked their flares, found they also possessed a bunch of expired ones, too. Theirs were only a few years out of date, versus our vintage variety pack.

Wayne explaining how to right expired flares.

The only concern? If they blew anyone’s fingers off, we were a ways from medical careWayne pulled on his reading glasses before it got dark and read the fine print on firing flares and explained how to set the flares off. Like most boys, Wayne and Ken were far more eager to fire the flare guns and pull the cord than us gals were.

They were more comfortable playing with fire than me (I watched rather than joined my brother’s minor pyromania play and I’m a lifelong non-smoker who still can’t light a Bic cigarette lighter). They led the way, with Ken dancing with his; lit flares. Photos and videos of Ken’s tripping the light fantastic are not included because we consider each other friends and I’d like to keep it that way.

Ken’s aerial flares fired off from his gun without a hitch.

Out of our twelve flares, a mix of hand-helds and gun-fired aerials, nine failed, and only three were not duds and fired. 

In the interest of experience, I attempted to light some flares off. 

I felt jumpy, and the exploding fireworks from another nearby beachside group didn’t help. After all, if you’re jittery in the first place and not sure you know what you’re doing, it’s startling to hear a BANG! as you are about to or just pulled the beaded string off a flare in your hand. I also didn’t quite expect the recoil! The flare jerked my hand back about an inch or so after yanking the beaded pull of my one successfully fired handheld flare.

Expired flares, blowing their wad on the beach at Sauvie Island.

After lots of flare-fire and dancing with handhelds, Mike still had a dozen spare expired flares. He stood them up like candles, planted them in the beach in sets of four, then lit each off after the prior set burned down.

We doused our spent flares in water and disposed of them. In doing some additional research, I found out they are potentially damaging to the water supply, and harmful for wildlife.  The best way to dispose of them would’ve been to check with the local police department, who probably would’ve suggested we take them to the hazardous waste site.

Flare images pilfered from

If money was no object, I would rather use an electronic flare, but they’re not cheap. They run about three times the cost of traditional flares, assuming you need to purchase handhelds, aerials, and a gun for the aerials.

Image for electric flare from Sirius Signal pilfered from their website,

The only electronic flare that passes all the latest Coast Guard requirements is Sirius Signal. No worries about lighting them off or expirations, only making sure the battery is still viable.

The ROI would be about and long as the age of our expired flares. 

Meanwhile, all our flares aboard are current and I now know how to set them off, should I ever need to.

Location Location
We’re anchored off Sauvie Island, Portland Oregon area N45 47.455 W122 47.201.

Moon over Sauvie Island, 4th of July 2020.