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Laser Technology, Available Now, May Replace Pyrotechnic Signals

By Jim O’Meara


The US Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) is conducting market research to identify technologies that are a suitable alternative to current requirements for pyrotechnic VDSDs as the final link in distress alerting and locating. The parameters include personal and vessel distress signal devices regardless of weather conditions or the time of day/night for visual detection. The common methods of detection include the unaided eye, electro-optical equipment, or other sensor types. Information on devices that rely on Light Emitting Diode (LED), laser, or other high-intensity technology is preferred, however any viable VDSD technologies will be considered.

It makes sense. The US Coast Guard is looking for a better way to attract attention in an emergency situation other than the use of hazardous pyrotechnic flares. The driving force is the disposal problem of outdated chemicals that pose a risk to the environment plus the fire and explosion risk subject to transportation restrictions. Couple those considerations with an obvious question, “Why are we still using fire and smoke as a rescue signal?”

With modern position reporting equipment such as EPIRB’s, PLB’s, and AIS, there is no logical reason to continue using pyrotechnics. Some form of visual communication will still be required and the technologies that give the best overall performance in distance and duration will eventually make the alternative list of approved non-pyrotechnic signal products. One such product that was submitted is the Rescue Laser Flare. It is important to remember that until an eventual USCG approval, boaters will still need to have the requisite, traditional, day and night signals aboard their vessels. That requirement doesn’t preclude carrying Rescue laser Flares in addition to the USCG approved or SOLAS caliber pyrotechnics. Boaters might want to consider rigging a Rescue Laser Flare on life jackets, with another one or two stowed in the flare locker “just in case”. Nobody ever died at sea as a result of having redundant safety systems.


The following are a performance comparisons and specifications as presented to the Coast Guard. The benefits of the Rescue Laser Flare are “clearly visible”.



Rescue Lasers


Pyrotechnic Flares

Signal Duration

5-72 hrs. depending on product


1 minute

Detection Capability

Locates reflective material



Fire Risk

No risk



Environmental Risk

Environmentally safe


Hazardous Material


Long duration – Easy to locate source


Short duration – Difficult to locate source






Rescue Laser Light

Rescue Laser Flare Magnum ®

Green Rescue Laser Flare ®


CR123 Lithium


CR123 Lithium

Operating Time on Batteries

40 hours

72 hours

5 hours

Waterproof Depth

80 ft.

80 ft.

80 ft.

Operates Below 0°


Yes, with AA lithium batteries
* alkaline batteries included


Laser Diode

10,000 hr. meantime to failure

10,000 hr. meantime to failure

5,000 hr. meantime to failure

Signal Distance

20 miles at night
1-3 miles daytime

20 miles at night
1-3 miles daytime

30 miles at night
3-5 miles daytime


Limited Lifetime Warranty

Limited Lifetime Warranty

180-day Warranty