Friday, January 01, 2010

Fireworks tested...

Happy 2010!

This year I celebrated New Year with friends and family in a fishermen-village at the Dutch coast. New Year-Fireworks in places like this are special: like anywhere there is a lot of Chinese show fireworks fired, but in addition to that, night-sky turns red here by the bright light of dozens of parachute distress flares. The skippers discard expired distress pyrotechnics by launching it at New Year's Eve.

It was a perfect occasion to practice using the flares I normally carry with me while I am seakayaking, and to test the reliability of these signals. I tried an Parachute Flare (exp. 2008-10), a Red Handflare (exp. 2008-11) and my Nico Signal (a popular pen flare revolver):
- the parachute flare - the rocket was launched powerful, but the flare did burn only for a few seconds;
- the red handflare - didn't ignite at all...
- the Nico Signal: 5 catridges worked faultless, 1 failed.
Overall a disappointing performance. This time it was not more than "a pity" as I had hoped for more spectacle to amuse the kids, but in a real life emergency situation you just want your alarm signals to work!

It must be said that my little "test" in itself is not representative nor reliable: the signals I tried were old, well over the expiry date and have been exposed to a marine environment during many sea-kayak-trips over a lot of years. Salt water obviously has intruded (the ignition mechanism of the parachute flare was corroded). Which I still find strange because in general I transport the flares in the day-hatch of the kayak, or in a drybag behind the sea in the cockpit. Anyway, though it may look robust, the waterproof housing of the signals themselves offers only limited protection to the elements.
The reliability of the Nico Signal was remarkable - unlike the other flares my Nico Signal is continuously exposed to (salt) water, often even immersed in it: I want the Nico Signal in immediate reach, and it is attached by a lanyard on my Pdf, unprotected against the elements. NB: a Nico Signal is no substitute for a parachute flare because they only fire to about 30 or 50 meters and burn only for a few seconds.

"Lessons learnt":
- regular replace your distress-signals;
- always protect your flares against (salt) water (which stays awkward because you want them within reach. Having your flares packed away inside your kayak is quite pointless);
- always carry multiple flares;
- don't rely on one option - flares are part of a chain of alarm-systems, from simple means like a whistle, a mirror, over the cell-phone, to high tech devices like VHF-radio's and radio-beacons (EPIRB)...

All this is nothing new, though the performance of my old flares makes me seriously consider to add a SPOT to my alarm devises...


Tom Steenbergen said...

Hi Hans,
I had a similar experience with parachute flare (exp 05-2010). It fired perfectly, but the parachute did not deploy fully and thus the flare went down in just seconds. Nothing like the 40 seconds printed on the tube.
The hand flare I lighted worked perfect though and burned and lighted the entire street for 60 seconds.

Hans Heupink said...

Hello Tom!
These results are alarming...

René said...

Hi Hans,

I had an alarming experience as well.
I had some old rockets- and smoke signals (they passed their expiry dates long ago) that I did not use any more. So I got rid of them at New Year's Eve.

First I launched 2 small rocket flares. One performed as it should. The other went up but did not start glowing.

The white-smoke-signal was a different story: I pulled the lever, which broke and and separated from the signal. Not knowing this type of signal, I think this could be normal.
However, nothing happened!
After about 10 seconds I lowered it and intended to take a closer look at the signal, but at that very moment it happened: no smoke but a flame appeared! And it was aimed directly at my eyes. Stupid beginners fault ;-(

Luckily I wear glasses. So I am still able to see with both eyes (My guardian was very closeby I guess), but I miss some hair and have burns at the top of my nose, in the corner very near to my eyes.
I spent more than an hour with my head under the tap to cool down the burns until the burning-feeling was gone.
After a few days now, the healing-proces is on its way.

So, it ends with a fizzle!

What did I learn,
- never let flares etc. expire too long
- don't use such old flares, not even at New Year's Eve.
- don't trust flares to be functioning always, So take two in case one doesn't function
- and of course: don't come closeby with hands or eyes