Commercial fishing boats have to carry flares. It’s three flares inside of three miles. Three miles to 50 miles it’s six red flares, three smoke flares and three aerial flares. If you’re a commercial fisherman you know that. I shouldn’t be telling you something you don’t know.

A flare exercise. U.S. Navy photo.Just packing the requisite number of flares isn’t enough. When things go south in a big hurry, when the boat heaves up and starts to go over, you best be able to get to those flares immediately. They don’t do you any good if you have to muck through some locker to find them.

But maybe things happen so fast you can’t get to the flares, no matter how easy their access. So life saving gear, especially the life raft, should have its required flares. If that hadn’t been the case when the 60-foot Leviathan II capsized, everyone would probably have drowned.

It was this past October 25, when two Canadians, Ken Brown and Clarence Smith, were longlining for halibut off British Columbia’s Vargas Island.

As they were hauling back their gear, Brown happened to turn around and see a single flare go off against the afternoon sky. According to news reports, that was the “only signal anyone could see from the capsized wreckage of the MV Leviathan II, which flipped so quickly there was no time to send a mayday call.”

The Leviathan II was a sightseeing boat with 27 people aboard. Brown and Smith hauled people out of the water and off a life raft and onto their boat, which is just shy of 20-feet long. Eventually they carried 13 survivors back to shore. Other boats rescued eight more. Five died and one was listed as missing.

There’s always a certain “what if” element to tragedies. “What if” Brown hadn’t turned around? “What if” that life raft hadn’t been equipped with a rocket flare?

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