How To Select The Right Marine Fire Extinguisher

4th Mar 2020

If you are a keen sailor then you will already understand that safety on the boat is absolutely paramount. If you are a new boat owner, ensuring your vessel is well equipped with various safety features and resources is incredibly important. In fact, many new boat enthusiasts make sure that creating a safe sailing vessel is one of the first things that they do.

One item that is absolutely necessary to have on your boat is a fire extinguisher. Fires onboard are a very common reason why many boaters end up abandoning their ship. Once you have a fire extinguisher on board, you will be able to deal with the majority of fires so that you don’t end up in a dangerous situation.

There are a lot of different fire extinguishers for boats on the market right now and it can often be difficult knowing which is the best to buy. Here’s our quick guide to help you choose the right one for your boat.

How Long Is Your Boat?

You might not realize it, but the length of your boat will be a deciding factor when choosing a fire extinguisher. For all pleasure boats, between one to three extinguishers are required by the Coast Guard. The longer your boat is, then the more you will need. The requirements are quite specific depending on length, as outlined in the below points.

  • Up to 26’ - One B-l size boat fire extinguisher is required on all pleasure boats up to this length. If you don’t carry passengers for hire and don’t have a permanent fuel tank or anywhere where explosive or flammable gasses can collect, then you don’t require a boat fire extinguisher on a vessel of this length.
  • Between 26’ and 40’ - On a boat between these lengths, you will be required to have either two B-l size fire extinguishers or one that is size B-II.
  • Between 40’ and 65’ - You will need either three B-I or one B-I and one B-II.

As long as you have the correct number and type of fire extinguishers for your boat’s size, then you will pass an inspection by the Coast Guard. If you need to have more than one on board, make sure that they are placed at strategic locations along the boat. Fires on boats can spread exceptionally quickly, so you always need to have one close to hand. For instance, it is often recommended to have an extinguisher in the cockpit, galley area, and in each stateroom.

The Fires Different Boat Extinguishers Can Fight

Some boat fire extinguishers are made to fight specific types of fires. Each extinguisher will have a manufacturer’s rating explaining the types of fires that you can use it on. Here’s a quick rundown of the main types of boat fire extinguishers and which kinds of fires you can use them against.

  • Class A - These types of fires leave ash behind them. Fire extinguishers that can be used on Class A fires will be able to extinguish flames on solid materials, including wood, paper, cloth, and rubber.
  • Class B - These are fires that broil. Boat fire extinguishers that can be used on these kinds of fires will extinguish fires on flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil-based paint, kerosine, and varnishes.
  • Class C - Any fire that involves a charge is classed as Class C. These include fires that start from electrical equipment.

When you are reading the manufacturer's rating, you will notice letters that refer to these classes and the extinguisher’s ability to fight the various kinds of fires. It’s important that you find a boat fire extinguisher that will be able to fight the kinds of fires that you are most likely to see on board your boat. You will also notice numbers next to the letters as well. These show the extinguisher’s capacity for fighting a fire. For instance, a 40-B:C boat fire extinguisher can be used on Class B and C fires, but it won’t be suitable on any kind of Class A fire.

Extinguishing Agents

You will also notice that boat fire extinguishers can use different extinguishing agents. When you are looking for a new extinguisher, it’s important to consider these agents as they will also influence the kinds of fires that you will be able to fight. Here are some of the most common extinguishing agents found in boat fire extinguishers.

  • Water - This is the best agent to fight all Class A fires with. However, you won’t be able to use them on any electrical or flammable liquid fires. Not only that, though, but they can be quite bulky which makes them difficult to store and heavy.
  • Carbon Dioxide - These boat fire extinguishers are easy to use and don’t leave behind any residue. They are perfect for Class B and C fires.
  • Novec™1230- This is an environmentally friendly and sustainable material that is used to fight all classes of fire.
  • HFC-227ea - Can be used on all kinds of fires but are a bit more expensive than the other kinds of boat fire extinguishers.
  • Halotron 1 - This is approved by the EPA and is good for fighting electrical fires.
  • Dry Chemical - A cheap and low-toxic option, this kind of fire extinguisher can be difficult to clean up but good at fighting Class B and C fires.
  • Tri-Class Dry Chemical - Also cheap and low in toxins, the Tri-Class Dry Chemical extinguishers can fight Class B and C fires. They can also be used against Class A but are only moderately effective. Be aware that this material is corrosive and should not be used at the helm or nav station.
  • Aqueous Foam - Can be used on all types of fires, but it’s essential that it does not come into contact with eyes or skin.

Fixed Or Portable Boat Fire Extinguishers?

One further thing to consider when looking for a new boat fire extinguisher is whether you should get a portable or fixed one. Portable fire extinguishers can be used in the majority of areas on a boat. However, they usually only discharge for between 10 and 12 seconds, so it’s important that they are in areas that can be quickly reached so they can be used before the fire gets too big.

Many boaters like to equip their engine room with a fixed fire extinguisher system. That’s because this is the area where most boat fires occur. A fixed automatic fire system in the engine room will be able to fight the fire as soon as it begins before there is any chance of it getting out of hand. If the temperature in the room ever rises above 175F then they will be automatically triggered. It’s also possible to manually use them as well if you ever need to.

It’s also possible to equip your boat with an automatic engine shutdown system. This ensures that the engine is quickly shut down as soon as the fire starts - this is important for all diesel boats. If the diesel engine were to keep running, then the diesel being pumped into it would only feed the further. So, as well as an automatic fire extinguisher for the engine room, you might also want to consider an automatic engine shutdown system too.

If you want to see some of the current best boat fire extinguishers that are offered, take a look at the ones available on our website.