Depending upon your narrowboat cruising preferences you may want to consider investing in distress flares or beacons which can be used in an emergency situation. This will be particularly important if you cruise the river network on your narrow boat.

Distress Flares… An Introduction

Distress Flares

Depending upon your narrow boat cruising preferences, you may wish to invest in distress flares which would be used to signal for immediate help in an emergency. Distress flares would be particularly important if you undertake a lot of river cruising or attempt any sea crossings

Distress flare equipment should generally only be utilised when you are in need of immediate help and assistance. They can be used to signal your position to other waterway users, but this is less relevant to canal boats and narrowboats.

Flare Colours

  • Red – these are primarily used at night and only used in an emergency. It is illegal to set off a red flare in a non-emergency situation or on land
  • Yellow – these are used in daylight as they are more visible in daylight than a red flare, but they serve the same purpose and must only be used in an emergency situation
  • White – not as relevant for canal boats and narrowboats; white flares are used to signal your position to other waterway users to avoid collisions

Flare Types

  • Rocket Flares – it is recommended that two rocket flares are used; first one to signify you are in danger and second so your location can be determined.
  • Hand Held Flares – these are used to help emergency services locate you and have a long range visibility.
  • LED Flares – as with other equipment these days, emergency flares are now available in LED’s. One manufacturer produces one that emits a bright orange flashing light for 360 degrees, providing visibility over a mile away with up to 9 flash patterns. They also float in the water and magnets to attach to steel hull boats, rechargeable via USB and can flash for between 4-20 hours depending on pattern selected. These can be used to attract the attention of emergency services (you could attach to the roof of your boat), particularly useful if you are in a marina with hundreds of narrow boats.


  • Flares will deteriorate over time. Always check the expiry date (if applicable) and do a general check of the condition before commencing your cruise
  • Always familiarise yourself with the manufacturer’s instructions for use and storage
  • Always store the distress flares securely. They need to be kept dry but equally they need to be accessible in an emergency
  • Ensure all passengers are aware of how to use the distress flares and where they are stored
  • Use flares mindfully. Inappropriate use can carry severe punishment

Distress Flares

Not what you're looking for? Try some other items within this chapter...