When Is It Legal To use A Flare? (Federal Law + 5 Tips)

My family lives close to a rather large lake and every year when we go out boating for the 4th of July we are reminded of the safety equipment that is on the boat. The strange thing is we’ve never really tested the flares that were in the safety cabinet. I’ve always wondered what would happen if we were to use a flare without actually having an emergency. When is it legal to use a flare?

It is is only legal to use a flare when a person is in immediate danger and in need of rescue. When used as a signal for help, flares are allowed to be discharged according to the Coast Guard’s regulations. Discharging a flare without proper reason can result in a fine or other legal consequences.

What Are Flares?

Flares are pyrotechnic devices that produce bright light and loud noise, typically used in emergency situations to signal for help or as a warning. They can also be used recreationally, such as in sports like surfing and skiing.

The answer depends on where you are using

  • Type A: Rocket parachute flare (red): The red parachute rocket flare is an ideal way to signal for help from a distance, as it emits a bright light that can be seen up to 300m away. The flare burns for approximately 40 seconds and descent on a parachute, making it visible both during the day and at night.
  • Type B: Multi-star flare (red) : The multi-star flare emits multiple flares at the same time in a star shape, making it easier to quickly signal for help. It burns for about 40 seconds and can be seen up to 100m away.
  • Type C: Hand-held flare (red) : The hand-held flare is a smaller, more compact version that can be held and pointed in the direction of rescue. It burns for approximately 1 minute and can be seen up to 400m away.
  • Type D: Smoke signal—buoyant or hand-held (orange): The smoke signal is used to identify the location during the day, emitting thick orange smoke visible up to 3 nautical miles away. It can either be buoyant (floating in water) or hand-held.

What Do Flair Colors Mean?

The colors of flares correspond to the different types and their uses. Type A flares are used for distress signals only and can reach heights up to 600 meters. Type B flares can also be used in distress situations, but they have a shorter range and are often used as location markers. Type C flares are handheld and primarily used for short-range signaling or illumination. Type D flares are used for creating visual distress signals, such as smoke signals.

What Are Laws Around Flairs?

In the United States, federal laws regulate the sale and use of flares. In general, it is legal to possess and use flares as long as they are for legitimate purposes (such as signaling for help in an emergency) and comply with regulations set by the Coast Guard. It is illegal to use flares in a careless or reckless manner, such as lighting them indoors or shooting them at people or property.

Additionally, state and local laws may also have specific regulations on the use of flares. It is important to check with your state and local authorities before using flares.

Tips For Using a Flare

  • Always use flares in a safe and responsible manner.
  • Make sure the flare is within its expiration date and stored properly according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Only use flares in emergency situations or as permitted by authorities.
  • Dispose of used flares properly, following any regulations set by authorities.

What To Do If You See A Flair?

The Coast Guard states “Each year the Coast Guard responds to thousands of reports of flare sightings, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in personnel and equipment costs.”

If you happen to see a flair go off into the sky, do not try to approach or handle it yourself unless you know you’re capable of doing so. Report the sighting immediately to the Coast Guard or local authorities.

Other Questions To Keep in Mind:

  • Color of Flair
  • How many flares did you see?
  • How long between the flares?
  • What type of flare was it (e.g., Meteor/star falling rapidly, parachute falling slowly, handheld burning on surface)?
  • Where did the flare appear to come from (e.g., a boat, plane, below the horizon)?
  • What is your position?
  • What direction was the flare from you?
  • What is the weather like?
  • Can you assist us further with this situation? If so, please provide your name and contact information so we can reach out to you if necessary.


In summary, it is generally legal to possess and use flares as long as they are for legitimate purposes and in compliance with federal and local laws. Always use flares safely and responsibly, only using them in emergency situations or as permitted by authorities. When seeing a flare, stay a safe distance away and notify authorities if in an emergency situation. Always remember to dispose of used flares properly and follow any regulations set by authorities. Stay safe out there!

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