Fire Extinguishers on Your Boat: What You Need to Know

Fire extinguishers are as important as life jackets when it comes to boating safety. The legal requirements regarding how many fire extinguishers your vessel needs to have can vary from state to state, so it's important to check with your local Department of Transport. This is particularly relevant if you have just purchased the boat, and you can't always be certain that the number of existing extinguishers meet your local requirements. Essentially any form of motorised boat (with the exception of small leisure boats, such as speedboats) needs to have at least one fire extinguisher. Most yachts that are intended for offshore use must also carry at least one. Not all fire extinguishers are the same, and when it comes to the unlikely event of having to put out a fire while you're on the water, you need to ensure that you have the best possible equipment.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

There are three primary types of fire extinguishers available.

  • A carbon dioxide-based extinguisher cuts off oxygen to the fire. This extinguisher can be carried onboard, but it should not be your primary fire extinguisher. The carbon dioxide can cause asphyxiation in an enclosed space, so it should not be used in a cabin, an engine room, or any internal section of the boat. It should be used for fires on the deck only, such as an engine fire (when the engine is not enclosed in its own room).

  • A heavy duty foam extinguisher will produce a thick coverage of foam which essentially acts as a fire blanket, smothering the fire. This is a quick way to put out an engine fire, but is not the best extinguisher for a vessel unless you need to extinguish a fuel-based fire. It should never be used for an electrical fire. The foam conducts electricity, and when coupled with the conductivity of any water that might be on the deck, the foam extinguisher can be quite risky to use on an electrical fire. Again, it can be carried onboard, but it should not be your primary device.

  • A dry chemical extinguisher is best. This is the most common type of extinguisher, regardless of whether it's for home or maritime usage. It will be sufficient for putting out most potential onboard fires, and yet it can be ineffective when it comes to burning fuel. Burning fuel that is not in close proximity to any electrical components should be extinguished using a foam extinguisher, or even a fire blanket in the case of small fires.

Fire Blankets and Buckets

As mentioned, a fire blanket is another essential part of your onboard firefighting equipment, as is a fire bucket. A maritime fire bucket will be connected to a lanyard (a rope or a cable). This allows you to throw the bucket overboard to fill it, and then haul it back using the lanyard. Please remember that water should not be used on an electrical fire.

Just like with a fire extinguisher in the home, you need to regularly check your boat's fire extinguishers. There will be a date noted on the extinguisher, after which the active ingredients can lose their potency. There will also be a pressure gauge where a needle will either be pointing to a green or a red section. When the needle points to a red section, this means that the extinguisher needs to be repressurised, regardless of the date on the extinguisher. Fire extinguishers should be professionally checked and recertified every six months, but it can be wise to at least check the pressure gauge before you take a boat trip.