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Are Laser Rescue Beacon Flares for Yachts a Good Idea?

Updated on August 20, 2020

Laser Rescue Beacons, Worth The Cost?

In the past few years a number of new non - pyrotechnic signaling devices, such as laser flares and strobes, have come on the boating market. These devices, which are often inexpensive, may help fill the gap between your 406 EPIRB, VHF Radio, rocket flares and distress smoke devices, and aid you in summoning help during an emergency at sea.

What Is The Difference Between Laser Pointers and Laser Rescue Beacon Flares?

There are big, big differences between professional quality, waterproof laser rescue flares and the cheap laser pointers that cost about ten dollars. One big difference is the fact that laser pointers typically have a low output and send a beam that is focused in a very narrow spot.

Even at the cruising altitude of an airplane, the light from a green or red laser pointer would only be a small dot, and the chances of it being seen in the cockpit are almost nil. In contrast, the light from a rescue laser flare is transmitted in a linear band that is more likely to attract attention, not blind the coast guard pilot who is looking for you.

You should never think that carrying a cheap pen - type laser pointer is in any way equivalent to carrying a real laser rescue flare. In the wet environment of a cruising sailboat or motor yacht, a laser pointer would most likely corrode after a few days, and not be of any use when it was really needed. Also, laser pointers are not designed to operate for long periods of time. If you hold the button down on a cheap laser pointer for more than a few minutes, most will begin to overheat and burn up. Real rescue laser flares for boating usually have long - life lithium batteries for five or more hours of operating time, and LED's with heat sinks that can remain on for long periods of time.

Will Other Boaters Recognize A Laser Flare?

Despite having been on the market for a few years now, laser flares are not well recognized as a distress beacon by other boaters, people on - shore, or in foreign countries. Laser flares are better for helping rescuers who are already on their way to find your boat or life raft's location. They should not be relied on as your single, stand alone rescue device. Rescue agencies and the boating public are somewhat used to SOLAS type red rocket flares, smoke and light signals, but not rescue lasers. In time, as laser flares for marine emergency use become more common, they will be more recognized as a distress beacon by the general public. Overseas and in many poorer countries you may even run the risk of scaring a would - be rescuer away, who may think you are a military vessel, a drug runner signaling another of your party, etc

Despite these shortcomings, a real marine rescue laser flare may be a valuable asset if you are in distress on the open ocean. After activating your EPIRB, calling "MAYDAY" on channel 16 of your VHF or on the appropriate SSB frequency, and after sending up a rocket flare, you might want break out the laser rescue beacon. If you have established radio communication with the authorities, you may let them known that you have a red or green laser flare onboard, and will be activating it. Green laser flares, as well as red ones can easily be seen with NGV or night vision gear.

Which Is Best, A Red Or Green Rescue Laser Flare?

In a recent article in Boat U.S. magazine, testers had some degree of difficulty seeing the red laser flare made by Greatland Laser both at night and during the day. Neither green nor red can be easily seen during the day, so lasers are of limited use in daytime. In the test, clouds affected both red and green rescue lasers equally, so they would most likely be of little use on a rainy, heavily overcast night except at close range. Green was shown to be much more visible at night than red. Since the band of light gets longer the farther it shines, at sixteen miles the beam can be 6000 feet long. Greatland Laser claims their green lasers can be seen at over 30 miles on a clear night and two miles in daytime. One downside of green lasers is that the color green is not associated with danger or an emergency signal. Red is the universal color of visual distress beacons, so as a sailor I would probably accept the trade off of red lasers for the recognizability factor that they offer vs. green laser beacons.

In the Boat U.S. test, weeping the rescue laser beacon in an arc, from the water at your position up toward your intended target, seemed to be the best way to show your rescuers where you are located.

Are Rescue Laser Beacons For Yachts Coast Guard Approved?

So far most laser rescue flares that I know of are not Coast Guard Approved as a distress signal. The Coast Guard is proceeding cautiously on the subject of lasers, partly due to the differences in design of competing products and the danger that some cheap models may pose to the vision of rescue pilots.

Should You Buy A Rescue Laser Flare For Your Yacht?

With a range of over 40 miles under the right conditions, I would love to have one of these on board my boat if there was an emergency at night. Used together with all the other means of summoning help in an emergency at sea, a red or green rescue laser flare beacon could help your rescue party arrive faster. In an abandon - ship type situation, every minute counts when it comes to preventing hypothermia, shark attack, etc. The best models of laser rescue flares are not cheap. With Greatland Laser's green beacon going for over $250, these devices are probably not for every boater. (Update: since this Hub was published, the cost of rescue laser beacons has gone down considerably. If money is an issue then you might want to consider spending that same amount on regular SOLAS flares, smoke signals, an EPIRB, etc.

If you do have the cash to lay out for extra safety gear, and were planning a serious sailing trip, I would definitely recommend having a rescue laser flare or beacon onboard.

Demonstration Of Laser Rescue Light


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