WARRENTON, Ore. — The Coast Guard is reminding the public of the consequences of illegal flare lighting after an aircrew witnessed the firing of multiple flares near Cannon Beach, Oregon, early Monday morning.
A Sector Columbia River aircrew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter responded to a report of flare sightings at approximately 2:00 a.m. this morning, witnessing individuals firing dozens of flares from shore and then fleeing into the forest.
“It is against the law to fire distress flares unless in an emergency situation,” said John Bennett, operations unit member at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. “Flares signal that somebody is in immediate danger and needs assistance. False activation can tie up emergency resources and delay the response to genuine emergency calls.”
While the Coast Guard encourages the public to report potential sightings of distress, please remember that there are severe penalties for the misuse of flares including the cost of the response.
Additionally, responding to false flare reports increases the risk of the emergency personnel and could potentially result in the loss of life due to the misuse of visual distress signals.
If you spot a flare, please take these steps to report the incident to local emergency responders.
If You See A Flare…
“Each year the Coast Guard responds to thousands of reports of flare sightings, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in personnel and equipment costs.”
The SAR Mission
To improve the Coast Guard’s ability to respond and increase the chance of rapidly locating a mariner in distress, a technique known as the “Fist Method” has been developed to assist in accurately determining the position of the flare in relation to yourself, the reporting source.
The Fist Method:
To estimate the distance of a flare from your position, the Coast Guard needs to determine the height of the flare above the horizon. To do this, hold your arm straight out in front of you and make a closed fist. Hold the bottom of your fist on the horizon with the thumb side pointing up. Picture in your mind the flare that you saw, compare the height of the flare at its peak to your fist. Was it 1/2 fist? A whole fist? Two fists?
By using this method, the Coast Guard can estimate how far away the flare is from you. The Coast Guard will ask you several more questions to narrow down the position of the flare.
What color was the flare?
How many flares did you see?
How long between the flares?
What type of flare was it?
Meteor/star (falling rapidly)?
Parachute (falling slowly)?
Handheld (burning on surface)?
Where did the flare appear to come from?
Below the horizon?
What is your position?
What direction was the flare from you?
What is the weather?
Can you assist?
What is your name? What phone number/ frequency can you be contacted on if we need further information?
If You Shoot a Flare…
Flares are required equipment on boats because they could save your life. There is nothing wrong with shooting a flare if you are in distress or in need of assistance.
Often a Good Samaritan will come to assist when a flare is fired. Other boaters may have seen the flare and called the Coast Guard, so it is important you let the Coast Guard know via VHF radio or phone that you fired a flare. This is so the Coast Guard can call off any rescue forces that could be searching for you. By calling us, we can keep valuable resources available for mariners in actual distress.
Do not shoot off expired flares. The Coast Guard recommends that you dispose of them at your local fire department or contact your closest Coast Guard station and ask if they hold flare training/demonstration days for the public.
The Coast Guard strongly encourages mariners to carry visual distress signals aboard their vessels as they could potentially save lives and to not be afraid to use those signals in the event of a true emergency situation.