Illegal sale and use of distress signals (flares)

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder to retailers about the dangers of illegally selling distress signals, commonly known as marine flares or flares.



There have been a number of recent occasions where distress signals have been used at entertainment, sporting events and political protests. The incorrect use of these distress signals have put the public in harm's way.

The public are also reminded that it is an offence to use a distress signal without a reasonable excuse. If a person is found to be in possession of a distress signal without a reasonable excuse, it may be seized by an inspector or a police officer, and they may also be prosecuted.

Safety Issues

Distress signals are pyrotechnic devices that are used for signalling, warning, or rescue purposes, with the most common example being the use of distress signals on recreational marine vessels. Distress signals are to be used in emergency situations only.

Distress signals contain a small explosive charge and burn at high temperatures. Incorrect use can cause harm to people (such as burns and eye injuries) and property.

Distress signals are not designed to be used in crowds and should not be let off or thrown towards people or property.

It essential that distress signals are stored safely and securely.

Recommended ways to control risks

Retailers selling distress signals

Only licensed retailers are allowed to sell explosives, including distress signals.

Retailers should only sell distress signals to those with a reasonable excuse for possession. A reasonable excuse includes compliance with a law that requires or permits a person to own and use distress signals.

For example, recreational vessels are required to carry distress signals when operating on coastal and enclosed waters, so those with a boating licence can own or use them.

Distress signals should not be sold to a person without a reasonable excuse. It is recommended that all retailers request evidence of that reasonable excuse at the time of purchase, for example, the provision of a boating licence.

Users of distress signals

To control the risks associated with the incorrect use of distress signals, users should pay attention to:

  • Storage – distress signals should be stored in original packaging, in a cool and dry place and in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Usage – to avoid burns and eye injury, all users should follow the manufacturer's instructions printed on the distress signals.
  • Expiry – all distress signals come with an expiry date. Distress signals should not be used if they have expired, as this can affect their safety and efficiency.
  • Safe disposal – expired distress signals that have been obtained for personal use, may be disposed of in the following ways:
    • Handed into a local Victoria Police Station.
    • If the retailer allows, returned to the place of purchase.

Legal Duties

The Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and the Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2022 set out duties for retailers and users of distress signals as follows.


  • Explosives must be packaged in accordance with the Australian Explosives Code (AEC), so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • A licence to sell distress signals is required.
  • A licence to store distress signals is required, unless being stored in a quantity less than Column 2 of Table 83 in Regulation 83:
Type of explosive
Maximum quantity which can be stored without a licence

Distress signals of Classification Code 1.3G

5 kgs

Distress signals of Classification Code 1.4G

10 kgs

Distress signals of Classification Code 1.3G and 1.4G

10 kgs in total, not more than 5 kg of which can be Classification Code 1.3G

  • A licence to import is required if the distress signals are coming from a place outside Australia.
  • Buildings, rooms and receptacles used for the storage of distress signals require signage and/or markings.
  • Damaged or defective distress signals must not be sold.


  • A person must not possess or discharge a distress signal without a reasonable excuse. If a person is found to be in possession of a distress signal without a reasonable excuse, the distress signal may be seized by an inspector or a police officer and they may face prosecution.
  • When purchasing distress signals, a person must not give the seller any false or misleading information or documentation, in connection with the purchase.
  • A person disposing of distress signals because they are expired, deteriorated, or damaged, or the person no longer has a reasonable excuse to possess the distress signal, must ensure safe disposal.


Possession of a distress signal without a reasonable excuse may constitute an offence under section 45 of the Dangerous Goods Act 1985.

Individuals who possess distress signals without a reasonable excuse may face significant financial penalties.

Further Information