Do Emergency Flares Expire: Shelf-life and disposal (2023)

If you’re like me, you have a few flares in trunk just in case you break down or come across a car accident at night, but how do you know when you should change them out? Should they be changed out every year, every couple of years, do they last forever?

Road flares do not expire and are intended for use during roadside emergencies. They are not approved for use on boats. Marine flares expire 42 months after the date of manufacture per the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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How Long do Flares Last Before They Expire?

When we talk about flares, it’s important to understand the difference between road flares and marine flares.

Road flares are designed to be stored in vehicles and used during roadside emergencies. They usually do not have an expiration date.

Marine flares are a completely different story than road flares. The U.S. Coast Guard requires marine flares to have an expiration date set at 42 months after their date of manufacture. They’re also required to be on boats and only recommended for ground vehicles.

LED flares are a modern invention that use batteries and super bright LED lights to signal for help. They’re a good alternative to traditional flares if you don’t want to deal with pyrotechnics in your trunk.

The Potential Dangers of Out of Date Flares

Flares are a pyrotechnic device. This means that they have a chemical compound inside of them that is designed to burn when they’re ignited. All pyrotechnic devices have an inherent level of danger associated with them, even if it’s very low.

Once a flare starts to age, there are several things that can possibly happen to them.

The most likely event is they just won’t work or they won’t burn for as long as they’re supposed to burn for. This may seem like it’s not that big of a deal until you sit back and realize that when you’re lighting a flare, you’re probably having a very bad day already.

On the road, you may not be able to signal to others that you’re stranded there increasing the likelihood of getting hit by a passing car.

On the water, it’s much worse! You could be lost at sea just hoping to see an aircraft or another boat to signal to. Now if you have an old flare that doesn’t work, you risk not being able to signal to rescuers! This has got to be one of the most terrifying situations to be in.

Aerial flares are usually suspended in the air by parachutes so they can burn at altitude for as long as possible. Old aerial flares can sometimes not properly deploy their parachutes when they’re fired. This means you only get a couple of seconds of burn time instead of the full burn time. That’s if the flare even fires at all.

The worst possibility is that an expired flare could have tears, holes or other weaknesses in its outer packaging. In this case, it’s possible for the flare to direct the flames and hot gasses out of that weakened area instead of out of the end. I haven’t personally seen this happen but I have read several accounts of old flares acting this way.

I would suggest inspecting your flares on a regular basis and getting rid of any that look like they’re damaged. Certainly check the flare out before lighting it if you have time.

Can a Flare Explode?

If you’re worried about a flare exploding, you don’t need to worry, they aren’t likely to explode even if you go out of your way to try to make it happen.

The chemical composition of flares is specifically designed to make them burn bright and for a long time. The chemicals used in them don’t lend themselves to causing a detonation.

There is a possibility that this burning composition could burn through a weakened area in the packaging, but they aren’t going to explode.

How Should You Store Flares

One of the best ways to extend the life of your flares is by storing them properly. Extreme heat, cold and exposure to moisture can cause flares to break down faster than normal. This is a little problematic since most places that flares are stored are hot, cold or wet.

Store your flares in the original packaging, away from flames and heat sources. The packaging will keep the flares dry, extending their life significantly.

The real storage problem comes with the temperature. Many manufacturers recommend keeping them between 40 and 90 Fahrenheit. If you’re storing your flares in a vehicle, this can be really tough.

There really isn’t a good workaround that I know of other than not leaving your flares in the vehicle. I always leave them with my road kit and haven’t had a problem, but you should understand that very high or low temperature can decrease the life of the flare.

You don’t have to worry about the flares igniting though. Most require something around 400 degrees Fahrenheit to start burning.

Do Emergency Flares Expire: Shelf-life and disposal (1)

How to Dispose of an Expired or Old Flare

NEVER throw an unfired flare into the trash.

If you have expired flares on your boat, you have a couple of options. Some people suggest keeping the old flares and just adding new flares to your flare box.

The logic behind this is you will still have current flares to use if you need them. Then, if things are really going bad, you have the expired flares to try if you need them. I lean toward taking this route. More is better in my mind.

If you have old road flares, you can do the same thing. Add a couple more new flares and keep the old ones just in case.

There will eventually come a time that your flares are just too old to really keep around or get damaged. In this case, it’s smart to know what the best way to dispose of them is.

Old handheld flares can be lit in a remote area away from combustible items. This lets them burn without causing any concern or starting a fire.

If they’re damaged or you don’t want to try to light the old flares, you should call your local public works office, police department, or fire department to see what you should do with them.

Many boating education schools take old flares as donations for use during training events.

Getting rid of old aerial flares isn’t as straight forward. You shouldn’t just go into a remote area and fire your flares to dispose of them. This could end up being misinterpreted as an actual emergency!

For aerial flares, the best route is to contact your local boating education school or police department, fire department or public works office.

Related Questions

How hot does a flare burn? Flares burn at temperatures up to 2900 degrees Fahrenheit (1600 degrees Celcius). The exact temperature that a flare burns at depends on the manufacturer and what it’s intended to do.

How long do flares burn for?Road flares and handheld flares are designed to burn from 10 – 60 minutes. Most flares made for civilian use burn between 10 and 30 minutes. Aerial flares burn for 25 – 30 seconds since they only need to burn as long as the parachute can keep them in the air.

How far away can flares be seen? The distance that flares can be seen depends on the type of flare and terrain and weather conditions. Hand-held flares can be seen from 3 miles away on the ground or up to 25 miles from the air. Aerial flares can be seen from 25 miles away as long as the weather is good.


Do flares go out of date? ›

Flares must never be used after expiry date. Pyrotechnics must be treated as hazardous waste and should be disposed of responsibly in accordance with regulations and local rules.

What is the shelf life of flares? ›

Checking Expiration Dates

Pyrotechnic signaling devices (including aerial flares and handheld signals) expire 42 months after the date of manufacture in accordance with the United States Coast Guard requirements. Typically, this means that you must replace your flares every three boating seasons.

How do you dispose of out of date flares? ›

A local life raft service agent may also be able to take your out-of-date flares from you as they deal with the disposal of such items on a regular basis. It is also worth checking if your local port or marina will accept them; they may have disposal arrangements.

Why do flares go out of date? ›

Flares never really expire:

They can go bad, they can rust or be damaged, but they don't really expire. (Highway flares — made of the same stuff as signal flares — have no expiration date.)

How long do emergency road flares last? ›

How long do road flares last? Depending on your needs, you can find flares that last anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 hours (or more). In most cases, you'll only need flares that last up to 30 minutes.

What happens if you shoot an expired flare? ›

The Coast Guard and flare manufacturers are promoting a “Retire them don't fire them” approach. Unfortunately, igniting expired flares has led to false distress calls: a class D felony and the equivalent of a hoax call. Time and resources are wasted responding to shooting off aerial flares.

How long do flares last once opened? ›

Flares have a life span of 3 years and must be replaced before they expire.
Flare typeAt nightDuring the day
Red hand flare5 to 10 nautical milesAre red in colour and can be used during the day
1 more row
6 Jun 2022

Can I keep expired flares on my boat? ›

As marine flares contain explosive matter, after they are used or expired, you must dispose of them safely and legally. The NSW Government runs a marine flares collection program that visits sites in Greater Sydney and coastal NSW.

Can you light an expired flare? ›

Since you're unlikely to use up your flares (it's rare that you break down or get in a car or boating accident), they'll eventually expire (many brands have a shelf life of thee boating seasons or 3½ years). They should work past the expiration date but they might not, and the risk of a misfire or a fizzle increases.

Can you soak flares in water? ›

Never dispose of flares by soaking them in water overnight and placing them in the trash. Their shells are waterproof, so the dangerous chemicals will still be active.

Is it illegal to set off distress flares? ›

The misuse of flares is not only illegal it is also potentially dangerous. Flares are designed to be fired over water to signal for help, so when the flare comes back down to the ground (if fired over land) it is likely to still be extremely hot.

How often should flares be replaced? ›

Pyrotechnic Distress Signals (Flares)

Flares expire four years from the manufacture date stamped on them. Flares are hazardous! Do not just throw them away. Dispose of old flares as directed by the manufacturer.

Are flares still in 2022? ›

Flared denim is another throwback trend that's popular again for 2022. They were big in the '70s and again in the 90's - this year we're seeing them super sleek with a more subtle modern flare, or in a kick flare/cropped style.

Are flares making a comeback? ›

Originally worn as part of the US naval uniform, flares hit the big-time in the late 1960s and 1970s – but they're having a revival for 2022, and we're not mad about it.

Can you reuse road flares? ›

Can't reuse- each road flare is only one-time use. Along with grabbing the attention of oncoming traffic, road flares are also an excellent choice for emergency situations because they will withstand rain and snow, and they don't require any power source like batteries.

How do you store road flares? ›

Store flares, with plastic cap and removable lid in place, in the original cardboard box or a container that has a secure lid. Avoid storing flares oriented so that the ignition button and striker ends could face each other. If using an storage tray, place the flares in a compartment separate from any other items.

What happens if you put a shotgun shell in a flare gun? ›

You cannot fire a 12 gauge round from a flare gun. They will not fit, and if they did, you would blow up the flare gun. The flare gun chamber tapers just enough to prevent a 12 gauge round from being chambered.

How long do flares from a flare gun last? ›

They are very visible from an aircraft and will usually burn for up to 60 seconds.

Can you shoot a flare gun on land? ›

Use on Land

While not at sea, those traveling across land can use flare guns to signal a need for help as well. In doing so, be careful not to inadvertently cause a fire. Remember that a flare is essentially a flying torch, so when it lands, it is incendiary and can easily light dry brush and foliage.

Do flares burn out? ›

Covelli: The most widely available pyrotechnic flare lasts a mere three minutes and burns at more than 2,000 degrees. They have a relatively short shelf life before becoming out-of-date and useless. This means that boaters have to remember to purchase new ones, or face a fine when the boat is inspected.

Can you store flares in your car? ›

In order to store your flares and your flashlight within your vehicle, it is best to keep them both in a sealable, waterproof bag (water damage can impede function). Both products should be kept away from flame and heat. You should be sure to refrain from leaving the flares in a parked vehicle outside for very long.

Can emergency flares burn underwater? ›

The combustible gas, which might be hydrogen or acetylene, depending on the application, can be combined with oxygen gas (the oxidizer) to produce an underwater flame at the tip of the torch.

Are flares supposed to touch the ground? ›

The key to wearing flare jeans is to get the length right!

While opinions on this can vary slightly, the general consensus is this: the hem should be no more than 1″ off the ground. I personally prefer even less, like half an inch off the ground, just grazing the top of my shoe.

Do flares work without oxygen? ›

The flare has to have both the material that burns (usually magnesium, which burns very brightly), and oxygen. There are signal flares that burn underwater -- one was recently used very visibly for the 2004 Olympic Torch.

What does a yellow flare mean? ›

Blue - An order to retreat. Green - Change direction of the formation: Fired by the commander in one direction to indicate a change in the direction, and then repeated by the relay soldiers. Yellow - This lets everyone know that the mission has been terminated, be it successfully or failed.

What does an orange flare mean? ›

Orange smoke distress flares:

Use as a line of sight distress signal for daytime use only. Handheld and Floating canister versions, which last approx 3 minutes.

What do white flares mean? ›


Generally there are two types of flares: 1) Collision Avoidance Flares: Designed to warn other vessels of your position. These flares give a white light. 2) Distress Flares: To be used when there is “grave and imminent danger to life and/or to the vessel”.

What is out of style for fall 2022? ›


High waisted jeans, high waisted pants, high waist tennis skirts, skater skirts, knit pants, skinny jeans, hoodie sets, short blazers, leggings, fur coats, cropped leather jacket, A-style mini dresses, and cold shoulders are some of the favourite clothes out of fashion for winter 2022 2023.

What is the jean trend for 2022? ›

High-Rise, Wide-Leg Denim

This type of jeans provides coverage for colder months but offers breathability for the warmer weather. Sahara suggests styling your high-rise, wide-leg jeans with a shorter top or a V-neck tee to juxtapose the elongated hemline.

Are skinny jeans out of style 2022? ›

Although skinny jeans aren't totally trending (yet), L'OFFICIEL makes an argument for digging out that long-forgotten denim look with new styling tricks that just might change your outlook on the slim silhouette. In 2022, celebrities and fashion influencers have certainly found better ways to wear their skinny jeans.

How do you wear flares in 2022? ›

5 Ways to Style Flare Jeans
  1. Keep it simple with a T-shirt. If you want to try out flared jeans but aren't sure where to start, you can't go wrong with a tee. ...
  2. Go for all denim. ...
  3. Try smart casual with a blazer. ...
  4. Create a summer ensemble. ...
  5. Get cozy in a cardigan.
8 Mar 2022

What fashion era is coming back in 2023? ›

Drop-Waist Dresses and Skirts

Heads up: The '80s are coming back, and in a major way. You may think of drop-waist skirts as a thing of the past, but they're about to make a return in 2023—as proven by Carolina Herrera and Sandy Liang (and they're looking good).

Are the 90s coming back 2022? ›

In fact, lots of your current favorite trends were actually born in the '90s and you might not have even known it. 2022 staples like leather blazers, mom jeans, vest tops, and varsity jackets were faves for your parents' generation and now they can live in your closet, too.

How long does a flare gun flare last? ›

Covelli: The most widely available pyrotechnic flare lasts a mere three minutes and burns at more than 2,000 degrees.

Do smoke flares expire? ›

5.1 Time-expired flares

Flares that have expired do not necessarily become more dangerous or unstable, but after their expiry date they do begin to degrade. The components used to provide smoke and light can become less effective. This is why you should ensure that flares are stored and maintained properly.

How long does a military grade flare last? ›

Red parachute distress rockets

The rockets project a rocket to 300 metres high and then deploy a parachute-suspended red flare, which burns for about 40 seconds at 30,000 candle power.


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