Pyrotechnics have a limited period of which they can be safely and effectively used. Over time the materials making them up can deteriorate and cause the device to either fail to work or present a risk to the operator.

Out of Date pyrotechnics should be properly disposed of and should not be used either as a backup or as a form of firework.

Use and disposal of time expired pyrotechnics (TEP) 

Guidance issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) highlights the risks and safeguards surrounding the use and disposal of Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP). Due to the potential instability of the equipment, damaged or out of date pyrotechnics should not be used.

The firing of a red flare in a non distress situation is illegal under the Merchant Shipping Act and could divert valuable search and rescue assets away from a genuine search and rescue emergency. Helicopter and lifeboat crews stand ready to respond to real emergencies, not to be taken away from their own family gatherings to chase false flare reports. Marine distress flares are NOT fireworks, and if used incorrectly can be extremely dangerous. Marine flares are designed to be used in the maritime environment and should only be used in a distress situation.  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.

- Jim McWilliams, Head of Search and Rescue at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Disposal of pyrotechnics

Out of date pyrotechnics should be landed ashore as soon as possible after the date of expiry for safe disposal. It is an offence to fire distress-signal pyrotechnics on land, in harbour or at sea for:

  • testing purposes
  • practice
  • or fireworks

(whether the pyrotechnics are out of date or not).

It is an offence to dump pyrotechnics at sea. Currently, there is no formalised process for disposing of all such materials, although all relevant parties are working towards finding an acceptable solution. The MCA has issued an MGN notice advising on the disposal of out of date equipment. Disposal may be possible through:

  1. Pyrotechnic suppliers, or their agent
  2. Liferaft service station, as these stations deal with the disposal of expired pyrotechnics on a regular basis;
  3. Port, harbour or marina where your vessel may accept out of date pyrotechnics for disposal (a charge may be made).

HM Coastguard accepts some out of date pyrotechnics for storage at Coastguard sites prior to disposal.

Coastguard facilities are very limited and are only able to receive and store small amounts of TEPs from individual members of the public and from small independent fishing vessels and arrangements for the disposal must be made through your local Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC). When contacting your local MRCC :

  • you must inform them of the number and condition of the TEPs that you are looking to dispose of.
  • The MRCC will check current storage levels and will advise you if it is able to accept your TEPs and will discuss arrangements for you to deliver them to the appropriate storage facility.
  • Not all Coastguard MRCCs have storage facilities and may be located a considerable distance from the MRCC at Coastguard Rescue Equipment Stores and Sector Bases.
  • Equipment Stores and Sector Bases are not manned 24 hours a day, the MRCC will make arrangements for someone to be available to receive your TEPs at these locations at an agreed time.

In some cases where a TEP has deteriorated to a dangerous condition the MRCC will arrange for its immediate disposal, but this will be at the discretion of the MRCC and subject to the condition of the TEP. It should be noted that pyrotechnics are manufactured to very high standard, but incorrect storage and handling of a pyrotechnic may affect its stability over a period of time. It is essential that you:

  • DO NOT turn up at an MRCC or other Coastguard location on speculation that we will take your pyrotechnics.
  • DO NOT dump carrier bagfuls of TEPs on the doorstep or leave them hanging on the handles of Sector Bases, Coastguard Rescue Equipment Stores or RNLI Lifeboat Houses. Many of these locations maybe unmanned and the dumping of potentially dangerous TEPs is a safety hazard and is against the law. Irresponsibly discarded TEPs may be picked up by children who could be seriously injured or killed by an abandoned pyrotechnic.
  • DO NOT put TEPs in general household rubbish or public litter bins where they can cause extensive damage to refuse collection facilities and may injure persons who come into contact with them.

Responsible behaviour by anyone who needs to dispose of time Expired Pyrotechnics is encouraged.

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