What Are PyroTechnics on Ship?

Pyrotechnics is the science of using materials capable of undergoing self-contained and self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions for the production of heat, light, gas, smoke and/or sound.

Used under extreme emergency situations (such as distress), these are provided onboard ships to grab the attention/inform ships within range so as to seek help and assistance of the vessels for rescue. Basically, it is a visual method of sending SOS signals. These pyrotechnics are used in time of distress is mentioned in Annex 4 of COLREGs.

In the unfortunate event (such as an ‘abandon ship’ situation) wherein one’s own ship is beyond saving, pyrotechnics can be one of the last resorts for the ship personnel’s survival and rescue out at sea. Pictorial representation for usage at sea is displayed on the cover of each of the units mentioned below.

Location of pyrotechnics (in parenthesis is the minimum carriage requirement as per SOLAS)

  1. Bridge
  • Hand Flares (06 nos)
  • Rocket Parachute Flares (12 nos)
  • Buoyant smoke signal (02 nos; 01 on each side, port, and starboard)
  • Line throwing appliance (at least 01 no)
  1. Lifeboat (each)
  • Hand Flares (06 nos)
  • Rocket Parachute Flares (04 nos)
  • Buoyant smoke signal (02 nos)


Different Types PyroTechnics Available Onboard Ships

Hand flare

A hand flare is a small cylindrical stick which when activated, produces an intense red smoke or light without an explosion. Should be held out leeward when activated. Can be used by the day as well as night.

Rocket parachute flare

As the name suggests, the equipment is designed to fire a single red star to a height of approximately 300m; this flare, launched at the minimum height of 300m in the air, self-activates to produce intense red smoke. A parachute opens up and reduces the rate of descent which gives more time to the flare to remain at a height and to provide a clear view to nearby ships or help.

Buoyant smoke signals

This pyro tech equipment is held in a compact container with a buoyant nature so that it can float on the water surface to signal distress situation. Mostly for use by the day, this can indicate the position of distress with the bright orange smoke  as well as for determining the wind direction for rescue

Line Throwing Appliances

A line throwing appliance is not a distress signaling equipment but is counteracting equipment in distress situations. It is used so that a connection is made in terms of a strong line between the distressed ship and the safe ship (to create a bridge)  to pass on towing lines or another kind of help.

Maintenance and disposal

  • All pyrotechnics must be kept in safe storage with the cases properly shut. This is especially important after safety brief to the personnel on board with regard to pyrotechnics usage
  • Keep flares away from fuel or combustibles and store in an accessible dry place
  • Carry out maintenance work (cleaning, expiry date check etc) weekly as well as monthly as per the LSA maintenance schedule of the ship as instructed under the company’s ISM requirements
  • In case of expiry of the pyrotechnics out at sea, hold on to them for disposal to an authorized entity once in port. Do not throw them out at sea or use them after expiry; being a product that produces an exothermic, usage after expiry can be risky

More on the SOLAS requirements for pyrotechnics can be read here

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

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About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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