Marine flares are inherently dangerous. They contain (varying amounts by mfg) Black Powder, Strontium Nitrate, Potassium Perchlorate, Magnesium, Polyvinyl Chloride, and Binder. (solid rocket fuel components)
Not only do they burn, they do so using materials that can cause exceptionally bad tissue burns. They contain their own oxidizer and flaming ejecta do not extinguish quickly with water. The combustion gases they give off are toxic. Flare smoke in the eyes requires a 15 minute eye-wash and a physician. If I were still working in a lab I would be required to wear a face-mask, apron and foundry gloves to handle them when ignited.
So, while hand-held flare value in rescue situations has been well substantiated, It could be a good idea to:
- Take a formal, hands-on training course where holding a burning flare through its burn duration is part of the course. Doing this for the first time under survival stress is not a good idea. Check with your local Coast Guard or Auxiliary about possible training opportunities.
- Keeping heavy fire-retardant gloves and at least safety goggles in the ditch kit.
- Consider crafting an extension that allows one to hold the flare well beyond the limits of the life-raft.
- Always keep crew and you upwind of the flare.
- Consider including red and green laser devices in the ditch kit and using them before resorting to hand-held flares.*
*Lasers also have the advantage of one-handed use if one is injured.