Question: My buddies and I are having a debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to keep my expired flares on board. I’ve also noticed that some of the medical supplies in my first kit are dated; should I keep the old items in the kit too?
Answer: I'm glad you are paying attention to expiration dates and keeping your safety equipment up to date. But this is an easy one to answer. No, and no!
Keep in mind that in a real emergency people tend to panic and are not going to take the time to look for and read expiration dates on either safety flares or medications in a first aid kit. Things happen too quickly, so it’s important to check all of your safety equipment every year and replace any expired items.
And it is equally important is to remove the expired items from the boat so that in an emergency situation, people won’t have to waste even a minute wondering whether the items are up to date.
And let’s not forget fire extinguishers. For the inexpensive throw away units that most recreational boaters use, I recommend replacement every 5 years—even if the pressure gauge still reads in the green area. At the low price of these units today it just seems prudent. I never want to wonder whether one will actually work when I need it. This replacement schedule is especially important on open boats, since the plastic nozzles and valve fittings tend to weather and get brittle if exposed to UV.
Check with your local fire department or emergency services to find out the best way to dispose of the old flares, medicine, and extinguishers.