A Flare Seen Off Santa Cruz IslandMemorial Day Weekend, San Diego, CA, 2012To be told! Radio transmission overheard on Marine VHF. someone in a boat offshore saw a flare. The boat offshore couldn't guess how high the flare was, or distance to the flare. The coast guard radioman on the radio advised the boater to "use the fist method" then explained the technique. Hold out his fist at arms length, thumb up, with the bottom of the fist on the horizon. Then report about how many fists above the horizon would be stacked to approximate the apex of the flare. U. S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement, Appendix I – Flare Incidents, COMDTINST M16130.2D (a) A major point to remember is that for any flare sighting with an angle of elevation of more than 8 degrees, the distance of the flare from the reporting source is less than 1.4 nm. (b) Closed Fist Method. A closed fist held at arm’s length with the thumb side up represents approximately 8 degrees of arc. An estimate of three fingers or half a hand can be extremely useful. Obtain the final estimate in terms such as “not less than ½ hand and not more than 1 ½ hands.” Convert number of fingers or fractions of hands to degrees based on Figure I4a above. The actual height of the observed flare at the top of its trajectory is also subject to a large uncertainty. For reports of less than 4 degrees (1/2 fist), the range of distances increases very rapidly.For flares that are fired into the air, the maximum height is assumed to be 1200 feet for parachute flares and 500 feet for meteor flares. The minimum height for both types of flare is assumed to be 250 feet or 10 feet above that of the reporting source for heights of eye greater than 240 feet. A flare that rises only 250 feet must be much closer to a given observer (e.g. height of eye 20 feet) in order to produce a given observed angle above the horizon (e.g. 1 degree) than a flare rising to 1200 feet which produces the same angle from the same point of observation. The distance in the first case is 2.31 nm while the distance in the second case is 10.98 nm.
