in: Outdoor/Survival, Skills, Visual Guides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

How to Fire a Flare Gun

A comic guide how to use flare gun.

Picture yourself lost at sea, adrift in a boat with a broken engine and torn sails. You’ve sent out a distress signal via radio, but by the time the helicopter search and rescue team arrives it’s already well after midnight. In a pitch black world, finding you is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckily, you’ve got a flare gun. 

Distress signal flares are required safety equipment on all marine vessels. Just like radios, flares offer mariners critical means of communicating their need for rescue. There are several different types of maritime flares: some only emit red or orange smoke which floats into the sky and can be seen from several miles away (in the daytime); others are similar to road flares which you hold in your hand as they burn and emit smoke; and then there are those designed like firearms — pull the trigger and an illuminating cartridge discharges 500 feet into the dark sky.

Firing the latter type of flare gun isn’t complicated, but there are certain things to consider to avoid injury and give your signal the best possible chance of being seen. Though the instructions here are for flare guns specifically, the basic principles also apply to hand-held flares and smoke signaling devices. Before you use any flare gun, make sure you’ve thoroughly read the instructions so you’re clear on how to load, cock, and fire the gun. 

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Illustrated by Ted Slampyak

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