The Captain Rob Cozen
Certified Marine Surveyor NewsLetter
December 1997 Archive

Fire Extinguishers

BOAT/U.S. Safety Foundation 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 bottom of this page.)

Carrying only the required minimum is literally "playing with fire." Our 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. 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 you're not willing to increase the number of extinguishers you carry, you should at least 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. An ABC unit is effective on Class B fires (flammable liquids such as gasoline, propane, diesel fuel, oils, grease, paints, tars, lacquers, and flammable gases) and on Class C fires (energized electrical equipment such as wiring, fuel hoses, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances). Class A includes ordinary combustibles: wood, paper, cushions, canvas, fiberglass, rubber, many plastics and other materials that burn easily and account for many boat fires, and can be extinguished with water. Consider a BC unit for the engine room: it leaves less residue on electrical equipment and machinery, and it costs slightly less.

FIGHTING FIRES

Fight a fire yourself if and only if:

• It's small and confined to the immediate area where it started.

Generally, if you don't get to it within two minutes, you're too late.

• You have a way out and can fight with your back to the exit.

• Your extinguisher is rated for the class of fire at hand. (If you bought

ABC units, you don't have to worry about this.) NOTE: Only Class A fires can be extinguished with water.

• You are confident that you can operate your extinguisher effectively: Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. Hold the unit upright. Sweep from side to side at the base, or use a series of short blasts aimed at the base.

Check for glowing or smoldering embers and repeat the procedure if "flashback" occurs.

• If you have the slightest doubt about whether you can contain the fire, don't even try. Your first concern is the safety of the people aboard.

Notify someone immediately of your situation and location before the fire burns through the battery cables or forces you off the boat.

• Burning fiberglass is extremely hot and gives off noxious fumes. If fiberglass is burning, get off the boat immediately.

PORTABLE FIRE EXTINGUISHER MAINTENANCE

• Inspect once a month, more often if exposed to weather.

• Have the unit weighed annually to verify it's fully charged. Gauges fail often enough that they cannot always be relied on. Twice a year, remove unit from bracket, turn upside down and shake to loosen any dry chemical compacted at the bottom.

• Recharge or replace after any use. Recharges run $15-25. Inexpensive units can be replaced for about the same amount.

• Never check a unit by partially discharging it. Remaining pressure in the canister can leak out over time.

• Have a full maintenance check annually by a qualified technician; see the Yellow Pages under "Fire Extinguishers." A more economical method: weigh the unit yourself every year, and replace it every few years.

RESTRICTIONS ON HALON

For many years, Halon was recognized as the most effective fire fighting agent available. It was quick to extinguish all classes of fires and was particularly safe and effective for use near expensive electronic equipment because it left no residual damage. And, it was safe for both occupied and unoccupied spaces. It was then determined that Halon posed a significant threat to the environment by contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer, and as of January 1, 1994, no new Halon could be made in the U.S. However, recycled or previously made Halon is still available for purchase in the U.S. If you currently own a Halon unit you don't have to dispose of it. It only poses a danger to the ozone if it is used or develops a leak. As long as your unit is in good condition and not leaking, it's safe to keep on board.

THE HALON ALTERNATIVES - FE-241 AND FM-200

With the phase out of Halon 1301, the search for a replacement resulted in the development of a number of "clean" fire suppression agents. Both FE-241 and FM-200 have been shown to be effective, safe for people and equipment, and environmentally friendly. Although both agents do pose some threat to the environment, it is considered to be substantially less than that of Halon. Their characteristically rapid extinguishing performance is considered by most to mitigate the detrimental effects of fire. Both agents' relatively short atmospheric lifetime (somewhere between 7-42 years) assure minimal direct contribution to global warming. When choosing which system is best for you, keep in mind that FM-200 is considered to be safe for use in occupied spaces, whereas, FE-241 is not as safe, but is significantly less expensive. Both require more agent by weight than Halon 1301 did, so your storage requirements for the extinguishers may increase. Both are Factory Mutual (FM) and USCG-approved.

 

United States Coast Guard Minimum Equipment Requirements

Coast Guard minimum equipment requirements vary with the size of the boat, type of propulsion, whether operated at night or in periods of reduced visibility, and, in some cases, the body of water on which it is used. Boats carrying passengers for hire have additional equipment requirements. For more details on how many and what types of equipment you must have aboard your boat, request a copy of the free brochure, "Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats", from your BOAT/U.S. Marine Center, the BOAT/U.S. Foundation, or from the Coast Guard Consumer Hotline, 800-368-5647.

Equipment 26' to less than 40' 40' to not more than 65'

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS*

*Must say "Coast Guard Approved"

At least two B-I type approved portable fire extinguishers; OR at least one B-II type approved portable fire extinguisher. At least three B-I type approved portable fire extinguishers; OR at least one B-I type plus one B-II type approved portable fire extinguisher.


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Captain Rob Cozen
Master Marine Surveyor
P.O. Box 220
Somers Point, NJ 08244
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copyright 1997, Captain Rob Cozen, all rights reserved.