Whitby Lifeboat


RNLI fades out Distress Flares

due to safety concerns

The Whitby Gazette published an article on Tuesday, 18 December 2007 relating to the firing of explosive 'maroon type distress flares' and plans for them to become a thing of the past. The maroons have been used for decades to alert Whitby lifeboat crews to emergencies and the need for a lifeboat call out.

The RNLI requested that its stations stop using the explosive rockets and to only set them off as back up if the now standard electronic paging system failed.

Whitby Coxswain Mike Russell said "it was a shame to put a stop to the tradition but the maroons would no longer be fired for every call out due to safety concerns although a small amount of maroons will be retained for bigger incidents. Things like our flag day, big public events and remembrance days which traditionally used the maroons would seem different in the future."

The RNLI indicated that debris scattered by maroons may be potentially dangerous and could harm people on the shore. It also says there is potential for maroons to misfire and the explosives should now only be used when absolutely necessary. Although there have been no major problems in Whitby there have been instances in other areas where maroons have gone astray.

Mr Russell said "maroons deploy up to 1,000ft, if they don't go up that high they have the explosive capability of a grenade – that could do a lot of damage. Many stations had already stopped using maroons and will not be affected by the moves to minimise their use but Whitby RNLI started using them again around 8 years ago to try to keep the tradition alive."

"It's always nice when the maroons go, a lot of older people remember the maroons from years ago, I would like to keep them but it is a health and safety issue" said Mr Russell.

An RNLI spokeswoman said: "Crews have been using the pager system for quite a long time but some stations have carried on using maroons, particularly because of tradition. Some like to use them because it alerts members of the public to a lifeboat launch."

She added: "We have requested stations minimise the use of them we are an organisation which moves with the times and have technical systems in place to launch the lifeboat, we don't just discard tradition for the sake of it, and are a very traditional organisation. "We are now looking at alternative ways to alert the public to the fact that the lifeboat is launching."

The new rules do not affect yachtsmen who can still use distress flares if they need help. The RNLI always recommends that distress flares are carried aboard all vessels because they are a vital piece of safety equipment and a proper and recognised method for signalling distress.

As I prepared this page, I can vividly recall the excitement and intrigue on hearing the loud boom of the flare to used alert the lifeboat crews to an emergency. The sound of the maroon was closely followed by the sound of hundreds of panicked seagulls as they took to the air. The sound of the maroon was closely followed by the sound of hundreds of startled seagulls as they took to the air. The use of the maroon flare has all but ceased with the exception of its use in November for signalling the beginning and end of the national two minute recognising the end of the First World War.

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