Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orion Skyblazer Safety Notice Update & Clarified Instructions

Here's that post I said I was going to do about Orion Skyblazer red aerial flares. This started out as an editorial aside in the Visual Distress Signal of yesterday's post, but then I decided it was worth a post of its own.

This is one of the flares in question. These flares are a popular choice for a lot of sea kayakers - they're relatively inexpensive, they're compact, they float, they're waterproof (although I keep mine in a little drybag of their own, and they come home with me between paddles, along with the VHF & a few other things that will last longer if they're stored someplace dry), each flare is a self-contained unit (the one I'm holding is in what I guess you could call storage mode; that's a double tube & telescopes out to become the launcher for the flare when you need to use it), and the three or four flares that come in a pack barely takes up any space in your dayhatch or deck bag. I've been carrying these as part of my kit pretty much since I got my first boat 9 years ago.

Last year, though, there was some alarming news about a number of injuries suffered when people used these flares. Sales of the product were frozen while Orion researched the matter.

Well, maybe everyone else in kayakland has been more on top of things, but I'd never seen the final verdict until last night, when I was browsing around various Coast Guard safety sites to make sure I wasn't posting too big a load of hooey (I really try very hard to keep the hooey to a minimum when I write about safety issues) & stumbled across an update which I was VERY happy to see. I'd read the warning about the product last year, but for a number of reason, beginning with the fact that the injuries were of the "bruised knuckles or lacerated fingers" type, sounded like they'd hurt but they'd heal, I chose to gamble a bit keep & using those as my night VDS.

So I was very pleased last night to find out that the freeze had been lifted & the flares declared safe to use as long as you follow the instructions perfectly.

Couple of possible hitches there, though.

There are instructions are printed on the side of the tube, but as you can see above, where I'm holding the flare so the instructions show, the lettering isn't exactly Easy Reader size. You just wouldn't want to be trying to read them for the first time in a situation where you actually needed to get some help. On top of that, it turns out that the instructions on the flares manufactured prior to September of last year aren't quite as clear as they could be about how exactly you are supposed to hold the device when you fire it.

They've rewritten the instructions & redone the diagrams & those are available on line for those of us who have pre-freeze flares. Flares expire three and a half years after manufacture, so there will be flares with the old instructions out there in people's kits for a couple more years. The new instructions really are much clearer than the ones on mine, and I'm glad I've reviewed them. Click here to read them for yourself.

In addition to the VDS page I linked to in yesterday's post, Atlantic Kayak Tours' Expert Pages also has some good kayak-specific info on emergency signalling devices. Worth a read. The main caveat you always hear about Skyblazers is that they just aren't as reliable as bigger, more expensive flares - that page discusses that. If you're paddling someplace that's sheltered & heavily trafficked, like Jamaica Bay, and you only get one of your three-pack to work, that will probably do still do the trick (especially if you've already called for help on your VHF & are just using the flare to help somebody pinpoint where you are), but the AKT page discusses some pricier options that would be seriously worth the investment if you were heading off to someplace more remote & less forgiving.

Oh - and remember how I closed yesterday's post with a warning that what satisfies the Coast Guard isn't going to make your BCU instructor happy? The 2nd paragraph is a perfect case in point!

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