What Are Pyrotechnics On Ships?

Pyrotechnics is an important part of life-saving equipment onboard. It may prove useful in the event of an emergency.

There are multiple ways for people in distress to get the attention of the search and rescue team. It may be visual, sound, or radio communication. Pyrotechnics is one of the most effective methods used onboard when the search and rescue team is nearby or in the vicinity.

Types of Pyrotechnics

Pyrotechnics is one of the signals used together or separately in Annex IV of Collision Regulations. There are different types of pyrotechnics onboard and the proper way to use them to maximize effectiveness.

Hand flares

Hand flares - pyrotechnics on ships
Hand flares – pyrotechnics on ships

Hand flares are an effective way to use if one is in distress. It is internationally recognized to be used when seafarers are in distress. It is more effective during night time but it can also be used during daylight. Though it is used when other vessels are in close proximity, it can actually be visible up to ten nautical miles.

Hand flares are designed for use in lifeboats and life rafts. It is a small cylindrical object, equipped with a pull-wire ignition and has a simple and reliable means of ignition. It produces an extremely bright 15,000 candelas red flame that burns for about 60 seconds. Hand flares weigh about 180 grams and can work either above or underwater.

Storage of hand flares can be found on the bridge, lifeboat, and life rafts. The bridge may store at least six or more hand flares while the lifeboats and life rafts are required to have six hand flares in the case of an Abandon ship. The casing must have printed diagrams indicating the proper way to use it.

Parachute flare

Parachute flare is another pyrotechnic used onboard ships. Its recommended use is during nighttime to obtain maximum effectivity and visibility. Ideal for long-range distress signals as it can be seen up to 10 nautical miles in daylight and 40 nautical miles at night. When fired vertically and in calm weather, it can reach an altitude of 300 meters.

For strong winds situation, fire at an angle of about 45 degrees. At or near its trajectory, the rocket shall eject a parachute flare that burns with a bright red color. It continues to burn for about 40 seconds with an average luminous intensity of 30,000 candelas. Parachute flares must have a rate of descent of not more than 5 meters/second to conform to industry standards.

While burning, it must not damage its parachute or attachments until it reaches the water or burns out. These types of flares are also stored in the bridge, lifeboats, and life rafts. The wheelhouse can store more than 12 rocket parachute flares and each lifeboat, as well as life raft, must have 4 parachute flares in the event of the vessel in distress.

The casing parachute flares must be water-resistant and shall have brief instructions and diagrams illustrating the proper use of the pyrotechnic. It must be carefully designed not to cause injury or discomfort to the person holding the flare when used in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating instructions.

Buoyant Smoke Signal

The buoyant smoke signal is another type of pyrotechnic that can be used in distress situations like search and rescue for Abandon ships and Man-overboard. SOLAS requires that the buoyant smoke signal must be contained in a water-resistant casing. It must not ignite explosively when used according to the maker’s instructions. Diagrams illustrating how to use this pyrotechnic must be printed on the casing.

The buoyant smoke signal is recommended for use during the day indicating the position of the victim or vessel in distress. It emits smoke of a highly visible color(orange/yellow) at a uniform rate of not less than 3 minutes in calm water. It should not explode or emit any flame during the entire smoke emission time. The smoke signal is required to continue to emit smoke even when it is submerged in water for 10 seconds.

There are at least 2 buoyant smoke signals stored on the vessel’s bridge. Each lifeboat and life rafts have 2 smoke signals that can be used during the rescue operation to indicate the wind direction and position of the victims.

Line Throwing Apparatus

Line Throwing Apparatus is also included in the life-saving appliance onboard a vessel. An important tool that can be used in different situations. Its main purpose is to throw a line over long distances or when normal weather does not permit the use of a heaving line. From hauling in supplies and provision, connecting to supply boats and other vessels, to aiding someone in rescue operations, the LTA is an essential component of any ship.

It is contained in a weatherproof plastic casing with an end cap and consists of a twist grip trigger assembly, rocket, and line. The diagram with instructions must be printed in the casing of the line throwing apparatus. SOLAS requires each vessel must carry at least four spares for rockets and lines. The device has a range of about 250 meters and is designed for ease of operation even in the most extreme weather conditions.

The product life of an LTA is about 9 years for body casing and line kit while the rocket is being replaced every 3 years. These are stored in a water-resistant locker near the bridge wherein they can be easily accessed and maintained in an ambient temperature.

Pyrotechnics Maintenance and Disposal

Maintenance work on pyrotechnics includes cleaning and physical check of hand flares, parachute flares, and buoyant smoke signals. The third officer performs checking of expiry date as well as rocket and ignition functionality as per the Life-Saving Appliance maintenance schedule as indicated in the company’s ISM requirements.

When pyrotechnics reach expired status and the vessel is still out at sea and en route to the port, it is placed in a secure location until disposal can be done at an authorized port facility. In no time are the expired pyrotechnics thrown at sea or used as this is clear pollution on the marine environment and may pose a risk of injury to the user.

Pyrotechnics are kept away from fuel or combustible materials and must be stored in an accessible dry place. All must be kept in safe storage and secured taking into consideration the motions of the vessel. The crew must be well informed and trained in the proper use of all pyrotechnics onboard.