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Dealing With Fires
Using the Wrong Type of Extinguisher to Fight a Fire
is Like Trying to Dig a Hole With a Rake . . .

Fire Extinguishers


The Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety tests of fire extinguishers confirmed that Coast Guard minimum requirements are exactly that: the absolute minimum. For fire extinguishers, they are barely adequate. (For USCG fire extinguisher requirements, see the chart at the bottom of this page.)

Carrying only the required minimum is literally "playing with fire." The tests, using a simulated galley fire, revealed that a 2.5-lb. extinguisher in the hands of an inexperienced user lacked the capacity to extinguish the fire-no surprise when you consider that the average discharge time for a 2.5-lb. canister is nine to ten seconds. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued extinguisher recommendations that go beyond the Coast Guard's minimum requirements. Not only the number, but the location of your extinguishers is critical-if you can't get to an extinguisher when you need it, it's worthless. You shouldn't have to travel more than half the length of the boat to reach it.

If that's not practical, an alternative is to step up to the next larger extinguisher size. Spend the few extra dollars for a tri-class (ABC) extinguisher instead of settling for the less expensive BC unit. Consider a BC unit for the engine room: it leaves less residue on electrical equipment and machinery, and it costs slightly less. What's the worry?

You might not think you need to worry too much about fire on a boat. After all, you are literally surrounded by water. But fire is a very real threat, not only to your boat, but to you and your passengers. Today's fiberglass/composite boats burn very quickly, and produce large volumes of toxic smoke that is equally as dangerous. Below are a few tips on fire safety
from SEAWORTHY Magazine, along with a few claims reports from BoatU.S. Insurance that highlight how quickly events can get out of hand. Knowing what to expect, and what to do are critical if you expect to effectively fight a fire. Each year you need to ensure that your fire extinguishers are in proper working order, and that everyone who boards the boat knows where they are.

Claim #9702081C: The owner and his two friends were nearing the last leg of a long trip from Yorktown, Virginia to Watkins Glen, New York aboard a 46' sport fisherman that he'd bought barely three weeks before. They were making good time across Oneida Lake when one of the crew left the fly bridge to go below. He quickly reappeared on the fly bridge: "We've got a problem," he informed the captain, " smoke!" The captain immediately brought the engines to idle and one of the crew tried very briefly to extinguish the fire. Within a minute or two, he as overwhelmed by fumes and had to abandon the effort. After trying unsuccessfully to send out a Mayday on the VHF, the captain ran to the foredeck, set an anchor, and hailed a passing boat by waving a life jacket. Meanwhile, a volunteer fireman saw the smoke from shore and dispatched a fireboat. By the time the fire was brought under control, the boat was destroyed.

Later investigation determined that the electrical panel was the source of the fire. The captain's urgent Mayday call conveys the danger of all fire outbreaks on boats. Unlike fires ashore, where there are usually several escape routes to safety, there are few places on a burning boat to hide from the heat and noxious fumes. Add to that the anxiety of standing above many gallons of explosive fuel and the choice to sink or swim (literally) becomes even more, well, problematic.

Time is critical with any fire, but when one occurs in the confined spaces of a boat it is imperative that every move made by the crew be the correct move.

BoatU.S. Marine Insurance claim files consistently confirm that a crew that reacts initially with confusion and indecision is likely to panic as the fire spreads.

Success and failure depends on understanding the fundamentals of fire classification, and providing the most efficient fire extinguishers in the locations where they are most likely be needed.