Fire aboard a boat is an owner’s worst-case scenario, so fire preparedness is vital. Extinguishers are the first line of offense once a fire has started, but they won’t be very effective if they haven’t been properly cared for. The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water receives many questions from boaters every year regarding extinguishers. In an effort to help as many boat owners as possible, the foundation created a myth vs. reality piece regarding onboard fire extinguishers.
MYTH 1: Tapping or striking the extinguisher keeps the contents “fresh.”
REALITY: Leave the mallet at home. Unlike days of old, today’s modern fire extinguishers don’t use chemicals that cake, get hard or need to be broken up. Whacking it with a mallet or hammer could compromise the extinguisher’s ability to put out a fire.
MYTH 2: All extinguishers must be mounted with a bracket.
REALITY: Mounting a fire extinguisher on a bracket keeps the unit in a handy place and may protect it from being banged around the boat, but it is not a legal requirement. You do, however, need to ensure the extinguisher is readily accessible, so leaving it at the bottom of locker or compartment is a big no-no.
MYTH 3: Fire extinguishers get old and go “bad” every year.
REALITY: Unlike flares, fire extinguishers have no expiration date. To meet U.S. Coast Guard carriage requirements, however, the extinguisher must be Coast Guard approved and in “good and serviceable” condition. The charge indicator needs to be in the green zone, the nozzle free of obstruction and the cylinder not rusted.
MYTH 4: The law says you only need to carry one extinguisher.
REALITY: U.S. Coast Guard minimum equipment requirements dictate that larger vessels require more than one fire extinguisher. While a full list of all minimum safety gear requirements for all boat sizes can be found at BoatUS.org/equipment, don’t let that stop you from carrying additional extinguishers. Having backups may help save your boat and won’t break your budget.
For more on fire extinguishers, go to BoatUS.org/fire-extinguishers.