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San Diego, CA

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Don’t Let Your Garage Blow Up! Safely Trash Your Old Boat and Road Flares

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We’ve passed the midpoint of the summer season, meaning it’s time to start thinking about the end of summer fun. While you’re getting the kids ready to go back to school and packing away the outdoors supplies, you might want to check the expiration dates on the consumables. Bad batteries can leave you in the dark if you fail to catch them, but replacement batteries are easy to find and disposal is just a trip to an e-waste center away.

Signal flares are a bit harder. If you own a boat, like many do here in San Diego, you probably own a flare gun since you’re legally obligated to have three signal flares of some kind if you go boating at night or if your boat is more than 16′ in length in case of accident or breakdown. Car owners are advised to have some road flares on hand for emergency purposes as well. Hikers and campers might own a flare gun of their own in case they get lost, though they might think twice about firing it at the height of burn season.

Since you’re unlikely to use up your flares (it’s rare that you break down or get in an car or boating accident), they’ll eventually expire (many brands have a shelf life of thee boating seasons or 3½ years). They should work past the expiration date but they might not, and the risk of a misfire or a fizzle increases. Both can lead to an accident and injury, not to mention leaving you without a desperately needed emergency signal.

The conscientious outdoors lover should replace old, expired flares, but that leaves having to figure out what to do with the old ones.

flares showing expiration date

How do you throw away unused, old expired flares?

A casual internet search common finds two solutions to the flare problem:

  • Find a place that accepts them as donations, and
  • Ask your local fire station how to dispose of them.

Keeping them to use as backups is another common suggestion, but doing so every time you buy new ones means you’ll have a mountain of old flares by the time you finally decide to get rid of them.

Contacting the San Diego Fire Rescue Department resulted in the following advice for safe expired flare disposal:

First things first, do not put any kind of unused flares in the regular trash even if they are past the expiration date. With enough heat or pressure they can spontaneously ignite. Similarly, do not fire aerial flares just to use them up; flares are emergency signals and can instigate an emergency response. Lastly, don’t dump your flares in the water.

…do not put any kind of unused flares in the regular trash.

Road flares are the easiest to get rid of; the Household Hazardous Waste Transfer Facility at Miramar Landfill accepts turn-ins by appointment. Strikable marine flares go the same route. Flare gun ammunition is harder, you should either return it to the place of purchase, or give it to someone who might use it.

That’s where donations come in. The Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadron can sometimes use old flares in exercises.

The process can be a lot of work, and there’s no immediate problem with just keeping the old flares. If you’re going to store any kind of flare, make sure to follow the absolute basics of household hazmat storage: keep out of reach of pets and small children, in a dry location where they will not get wet or damaged.

If you are a boater and plan to keep old expired flares on board, make sure to clearly separate them from your up-to-date ones.

A better name for expired flares might be “unexploded” flares

Why is safe disposal of old flares so important?

Here’s a story: in 1999 a Florida child found an expired flare in the backseat of a car. Predictably, it went off and injured six people.

Therefore, a better name for expired flares might be “unexploded” flares, since they are incendiary devices even past the expiration date. The chemicals in flares become unstable, not inert, with time.

Flares can be as dangerous as they are useful, and need to be treated with the appropriate care to avoid accidents and injury. Please don’t forget that.

Stay safe, and enjoy the rest of your summer.


If you or someone you know has been injured in a burn accident in the San Diego area, contact the Elia Law Firm, APC for a free consultation. Burn injuries can range from minor to debilitating.  You may deserve financial compensation if negligence by another party can be proven.

boating safety, hazardous materials, product safety, road safety, safe disposal

Comment

  • My dad had some really old flares on his boat a few years back. There was an accident, can’t recall the details, but he tried to set off one of these old flares as a precaution. Well when he struck the flare, it ignited so intensely that he got burnt pretty badly on the hand and arm. The flare completely burned up in the space of a few minutes, so like the author said, old flares can definitely be very unstable. In this case the flares were probably a decade out of expiration. But in any case, use extreme caution when igniting expired flares.

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