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Fire Extinguishers

The U.S. Coast Guard requires fire extinguishers on all motorized boats that can trap fumes. Because different types of fires require different chemicals to put them out, you can't put just any fire extinguisher on your boat. Extinguishers are classified by a letter and a number. The letter indicates the type of fire the unit is designed to extinguish. The number indicates the relative size of the extinguisher-the higher the number, the larger the extinguisher.

Class A extinguishers are designed to put out fires in ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cushions, canvas, fiberglass, rubber, and many plastics. The numerical rating for this class of extinguisher refers to the amount of water the fire extinguisher holds and the size of fire it will extinguish.

Class B extinguishers are designed to put out fires involving flammable liquids, such as grease, gasoline, oil, propane, paints, tars, and lacquers. The numerical rating for Class B extinguishers is the approximate number of square feet of a flammable liquid fire that a non-expert could expect to extinguish.

Class C extinguishers are designed to put out electrically energized fires, such as those from wiring, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances. Class C extinguishers do not have a numerical rating. The extinguishing agent in these extinguishers is non-conductive.

Class D extinguishers, which have no picture designator, are designed to put out fires on flammable metals and are often specific for the type of metal in question. These extinguishers generally have no rating, nor are they given a multipurpose rating for use on other types of fires.

Marine extinguishers must be Type B. The size classification must be either I or II, so look for extinguishers that are classified as B-I or B-II.

When extinguishers are approved for several different types of fires, their markings can be confusing. For example, when you look at the highlighted area of the following fire extinguisher label, you can see "Type A-Size II, Type B:C-Size 1." This indicates that is a multipurpose extinguisher that can be used on Type A, B, and C fires. Larger boats require a larger size number. According to this label, the Type B and Size 1 classification means the fire extinguisher meets the U.S. Coast Guard requirement of B-I extinguishers. The label for a marine-approved extinguisher will also state, "Marine Type U.S.C.G."

Sample label on a B-I fire extinguisher

Your fire extinguisher must be mounted with a bracket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Where you mount the extinguisher is also important. Be sure you mount your extinguisher where you can easily reach it. Do not put it inside the galley or engine compartment where a fire is likely to start, but mount it close enough to these locations so you can get to it quickly.

Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for inspecting and maintaining your fire extinguishers. In general, if you use your boat year-round, inspect your extinguishers monthly. If you use your boat seasonally, inspect the extinguishers at the beginning and end of the season, and once a month while you are using the boat. Check all of the following:

  • Seals and tamper indicators - make sure they are not broken or missing.
  • Pressure gauges or indicators - make sure they are in the operable range. (CO2 extinguishers do not have gauges.)
  • Physical appearance - check for damage, rust, corrosion, leakage, or clogged nozzles.
  • Weight - have your extinguisher weighed annually to make sure the minimum weight is as stated on the extinguisher label.
  • Extinguisher contents - every six months, remove the extinguisher from the bracket, turn it upside down, and shake it to loosen any dry chemicals at the bottom of the canister.

If the extinguisher fails any of these checks or if you used the extinguisher, either buy a new one or take it to a qualified fire extinguisher servicing company for recharge.

Number of Extinguishers You Need

Depending on the length of your boat, you may need more than one fire extinguisher. The following chart lists the required number of extinguishers. If your boat has a U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishing system (fixed system) installed for protection of the engine compartment, look at the number in the third column of the chart for requirement information.

Minimum Number of Required Fire Extinguishers
Boat Length
No Fixed System
Approved Fixed System
 
Number
Type
Number
Type
Less than 26 ft
1
B-I
0
26 to less than 40 ft
2
1
B-I or
B-II
1
B-I
40 to 65 ft
3
1
1
B-I or
B-II and
B-I
2
1
B-I or
B-II


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