11 March 2011
Coastguard Test Laser Flare


Search and rescue teams in Orkney have been carrying out the first test in Scotland of a new laser flare.
The manufacturers of this new technology claim it is a safe alternative to traditional hand-held red pyrotechnic flares - and that it's batteries give the laser flare many hours of life.
Local kayaker Steve Bunning was keen to put this to the test. The Kirkwall lifeboat took Steve and a laser flare half a mile offshore in Kirkwall Bay.
On shore, local coastguards were joined by members of both Kirkwall Kayak Club and the Orkney Sea Kayaking Association - to check on the effectiveness of the flare. The crew of the Shetland-based coastguard rescue helicopter were keen to be involved as well, making several passes over the lifeboat - and looking out for two more laser flares held aloft onshore.
From the shore the laser flare could be seen aboard the lifeboat as a small red light - something that could perhaps be mistaken for a navigation light. From the air, the helicopter crew struggled to pick up any of the laser flares.
The lifeboat crew then fired off two traditional pyrotechnic flares - which each provided a powerful red glow for arround 90 seconds.
The teams involved say the traditional flare gives a far clearer display - and is instantly recognisable as a distress signal.
They think the new laser technology is promising, but needs to be beefed up considerably if it's to be effective in an emergency.
Steve feel that if a kayaker in trouble managed to make radio contact with coastguards, the laser flare might still be useful in pinpointing their location. But he also shares the view that for now, the laser technology is still a work in progress.
An interesting night - and the local coastguard teams were pleased to see members of the two clubs getting involved in the trial.
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