When you’re at sea, you want to meet every safety requirement set by the U.S. Coast Guard, your state, and the ones you set based upon your own personal needs. The combination of these should ensure that you, your friends, and your family have a safe time every time you hit the water. One requirement that deserves extra attention, however, is keeping a fire extinguisher on board. It is not only required by the U.S. Coast Guard to have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher on board at all times, but many boating safety sights recommend having more than one fire extinguisher on board at all times. The amount of fire extinguishers you have usually depends upon the size of your vessel, but it never hurts to have extras. In the event of a fire, an extra extinguisher or two will definitely be life savers. This brings us to properly storing your fire extinguishers. Where should they go? How should they be stored? We’ll run through these questions and more below.
Fire Extinguishers and Boating: Which Extinguisher is the Right One For You?
Perhaps you have noticed that fire extinguishers come with different letters. A, B, C, D, and K are the most common letters to be seen on the side of an extinguisher. These letters refer to the different classifications of fire. While you might say a fire is fire, you’re only half right. The truth is that fires started by different fuels must be put out using the proper components. For example, Class B fires are started by flammable liquids like gasoline, paint, petroleum and other like materials. If you were to try and put that fire out with water, you would only make the fire spread. The proper fire extinguisher for such fires are carbon dioxide, dry chemical, and halogenated extinguishers. This is all to say that not just any old fire extinguisher will do. You need extinguishers that are perfect for putting out the fires most likely to happen on a boat. These fires are usually the following:
- Class A: Class A fires are those started by combustible materials like wood, fabric, and trash. They are easily put out by water or water and foam based fire extinguishers. Class A fires are usually the most common fires that people encounter. They respond well to water and can also be stamped out or smothered before they get out of hand. Such fires can start on a boat if sparks get too close to sails, wooden beams, or trash left aboard.
- Class B: As mentioned, Class B fires are those started by flammable liquids such as gasoline, petroleum, and oil. They are especially dangerous because they can spread quickly, especially if the liquids that fuel them are aboard the boat in large quantities.
- Class K: Class K fires are started by cooking oils, grease, animal fats, and vegetable fats. In short, such fires are most likely to begin in the kitchen. These are especially dangerous because they can spread quickly and can explode rather frequently.
Given the three fires most likely to befall your vessel, you want have fire extinguishers aboard that can handle each of these blazes in turn. You don’t want a margin for error or to even just barely beat a fire that springs up while you are out at sea. For your safety, you must have plenty of extinguishers stored properly and ready to be used in an emergency.
Your Fire Extinguisher(s) and Your Boat
If your boat is smaller than 26 feet, you should have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher on board. If you boat is between 26 and 40 feet, you must have at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board. If, however, your boat has a U.S. Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher system installed within the engine compartment, the number of fire extinguishers may be reduced.
In addition to length, the U.S. Coast Guard has identified a number of factors and features that indicate your boat MUST have an approved extinguish on board. Check to see if your boat has the following:
- Enclosed areas for living and cooking
- Permanently installed fuel tanks
- Fuel tanks that are too heavy to lift or move
- Enclosed engine compartments
- Seat compartments where engine tanks might be stored
- Double bottoms that are not permanently seal to the hull
- Other areas not completely filled with flotation devices and materials
If your boat has even one of these features, you are absolutely required to have a USCG approved fire extinguisher on your boat at all times.
One of the best options for boats of all sizes is to have a tri-class fire extinguisher on board. While the Coast Guard requires at least one, it is smart to have more than that--either two or three tri-class extinguishers ought to do the trick. All-purpose extinguishers, classed ABC, are also a smart option. These extinguishers take care of wood fires, flammable liquid fires, and electrical fires (Class C).
Whether your choose individual fire extinguishers for the different fires, go for an all-purpose extinguisher, or try for a tri-class chemical extinguisher, storage is the next important step you have to take.
Storing Your Fire Extinguishers
When storing your fire extinguishers, you have a few options to try. Most experts suggest storing your fire extinguishers upright and mounted where they are readily accessible. This usually means keeping them in rooms where fires are most likely to break out: the kitchen, the cabin, the bilge, and the hull. Depending upon your type of boat, you want to have a fire extinguisher ready wherever there is a lot of traffic and heightened likelihood of a fire break out/ How can you be sure where these spaces are? By using your own common sense and the fire triangle as a guide. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Where are flammable liquids (extra gasoline, oil, etc) stored on the boat?
- Where is the kitchen and is it cleaned regularly?
- Where do people congregate when on the boat?
- How often is the boat itself cleaned for trash and other debris?
- Where is the gas tank located?
Each of these questions should provide an answer to how many fire extinguishers you carry onboard, and where you keep them. If there are flammable liquids stored in a certain area, mount one of your extinguishers in that same area. Also be sure that the kitchen is cleaned regularly, removing trash, grease, oil spills, and other debris that can act as fuel for a potential fire. When you think of the most crowded areas on your boat, these are also the “danger zones” where fires are most likely to occur. Someone could drop something like a cigarette (spark), spill alcohol (flammable liquid), and you already have the recipe for a blaze. Finally, wherever the gas tank is located is the perfect spot to keep a fire extinguisher. This might be one of the most dangerous spots on the bank, especially if your boat’s gas tank is not cleaned regularly, if spills of gasoline are present, or other factors. If you can think of other areas on your boat where risk factors might exist, do not hesitate to place a fire extinguisher in these locations as well.
Aside from mounting your fire extinguishers, you may also want to store them horizontally. Depending upon how long your fire extinguisher is left sitting, the chemical powder responsible for putting out fires can become compacted at the bottom of the container. When it’s time to use the extinguisher, you will likely experience the fire extinguisher discharging propellant, and not extinguishing agent straight away. Storing an extinguisher horizontally can remedy this by ensuring the chemical powder does not settle at the very bottom of the container.
Of course, standard fire extinguisher maintenance requires boaters to check their extinguishers every few months to ensure they are working well. This is done to ensure your extinguishers are ready to go at any given time. You can do this by having a qualified professional maintain, service, and recharge your fire extinguishers regularly. Instructions on when and how to do this can be found directly on the extinguisher. Also take care to check the hoses and seals for any damage to the fire extinguisher, and weight the overall container to ensure it meets the weight requirement indicated on the label.
In closing, you should always remember to P.A.S.S. This useful little acronym should help you to spring into action if and when a fire starts on your boat. The letters stand for the following:
- Pull the pin
- Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire from the safest distance (as specified in the operating instructions)
- Squeeze the operating level to expel the extinguishing agent
- Sweep the nozzle or hose from one side to the other to give the fire full coverage until it is out
Now that you know how to store your fire extinguishers, where to store them, and how to use them, you can rest easy knowing your boat is as safe as it can possibly be. Remember to have both boat and extinguishers checked regularly for maintenance purposes. While you won’t want to think about a fire on your boat, it is certainly a necessary thought to ensure the utmost safety.