Many of you readers contacted me after consuming my New Year´s Eve article. I´ve described my (admittedly half-legal) proceeding to get rid of some very old and long expired distress signals. I used this occasion to not distract any emergency service and maybe trigger a rescue operation by firing the red flare rockets on a normal day but to rather “mix” the glowing red with the ongoing New Year´s Eve fireworks. It worked just fine and apart from the fun it was very helpful as a training how to utilize real visual distress signals.

All shots gone

Anyway, I received some feedback and preferably American readers asked for more information on the shown Nico Signal. I don´t know if this piece of equipment isn´t available or so common in the U.S. but here we go: So more information on this essential piece of safety equipment shall be following in this in-depth article.

How the Nico Signal distress device works

First of all: The Nico Signal cannot and will not substitute for a “real” rocket or flare. It is rather a nice surplus equipment that is absolutely easy and fast to use, very safe and because of the revolver magazine with six shots it allows for a fast repetiton of signals thus enhancing the chance to be seen. I was astonished how long those 6 to 8 seconds burning time are and how safe the utilization of this device was.

Fast and easy to handle

In the end, imagining a real nightmare on my boat, shit hits the fan, high waves, mast broken and water in the ship. Maybe my mates are injured or incapacitated, maybe I myself am injured too, shocked and partially paralyzed, it is essential to have an easy to use, like blindfolded, device to send out a visual distress signal. Nico is such a device: One (!) second and it is ready to go, six shots in a row. I´ve tested it myself and got approval by my girlfriend, who first was afraid and then astonished how easy it was.

The firing pin

The device consists of a handle, a safety pin and a safety slide. A trigger (that is a large, not to miss-push-handle) and a revolving magazine with six flares in it. When removing the pin and setting the slide from “S” (for safe) to “F” (for fire), one must just revolve the flare to adjust an easy to see arrow on the handle, hold it away and aim high – and just push the trigger. Revolving is done manually, when doing so, the safety slide goes back to “S” again so it must be set to “F” for the next shot. This all is done in under a second. Perfectly easy yet perfectly safe.

Minimum waste, maximum reuse, easy & safe handling

Now, having shot empty the whole magazine I ordered a reload. Reloading the emptied revolver is absolutely easy. One just pulls on the magazine and it will eventually slide off with a “click”. I had expected – just as seen in so many Hollywood movies and Western – that the empty casings would fall out promptly, but that isn´t so. I like this because, imagine being on a boat, six metal shells fall out and spill all over the cockpit, this poses a falling hazard and will make the whole situation even more unsafe.

Pull off the magazine with a “click”

So you need a knife, scissors or something sharp to manually remove each casing. This is, once practiced, really easy and will take mere seconds. Remembering the amount of waste and litter I created during that practicing night on New Year´s Eve, I somehow like the fact that except for the six small empty casings the whole Nico Signal system is literally free of waste. Now, this is absolutely secondary in a real life-threatening situation, I know, but I like this idea notwithstanding.

Old casings won´t fall out

The empty casings may be thrown into the water (during the situation) or put somewhere. The rest of the Nico System is meant to be reused multiple time. As there is not mechanical nor any thermal stress on the handle or the magazine, the whole thing could in theory be re-used indefinitely. Thus, Nico Signal, by the way, is also used by film crews, on open-air concerts and such as the company offers red, green and white flares (and maybe also more colors).

Reloading the revolver-magazine

Having emptied the magazine you need a reload. Every major (German) sailing chandlery-website and store will have those in stock or can order it very fast. I had mine bought online and delivered within 48 hours flat. Perfect.

New shots

Inserting the six new shots is indeed like it is seen in Hollywood-movies and as a German where there is no chance to own a gun and thus practicing those things I must say it felt kind of cool. Eastwood-style. But seriously: This also helps in a shitty situation because reloading is easy and will last not longer than 30 seconds.

Reloading the shots

You just put on the magazine to the big handle, secure it with a click and upon bringing the shot in line with the arrow and sliding to “F” you are ready for the next rounds. The whole process of reloading – if practiced at least one or two times – won´t last longer than one single minute the most. So I´d say it is a very effective system. I´d also say that my 9 years old son could operate this – whereas I would never trust him to operate one of those big-ass rockets.

Always have your Nico Signal at hand

Since the whole system contains no self-propelled rocket motor and a very little amount of gunpowder (or whatever fires up the shots), since all is either plastic and mechanically moved or encapsulated, Nico is basically water proof and does not have to be protected against moisture like the “real” signals. For them I have multiple layers of thick plastic packing and a big watertight canister. Nico however could be kept in a dry and protected place but does not need extra foils.

Ready to shot + spare shots

So, how about the price? At the moment the complete set Nico Signal including six shots costs around 80 to 90 Euros. A set of spare shots is around 50 Euros. So, for a total amount of 150 Euros (or Dollars) you end up with an easy as ABC-to-use distress device with twelve flare shots. Again, this won´t substitute for the “real” stuff but can safe essential seconds and may act as a first shot to draw some attention to your position.


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Firing off old distress rockets

The safety concept of my yacht

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