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Is Your Boat Meeting the Coast Guard Fire Extinguisher Requirements?

Check on your safety equipment when getting back on the water for the spring season

Fire extinguisher mounted on a boat
Fire extinguisher in the engine room of a boat (Adobe Stock)

Navigating the waters comes with its own set of safety regulations, including requirements for fire extinguishers on boats. Maritime authorities mandate that boats carry specific types and quantities of fire extinguishers based on factors such as vessel size, propulsion, and fuel systems. Adhering to these regulations is crucial for ensuring the safety of passengers and crew while on the water.

As of April 2022, you should have added another item to your Spring Commissioning Checklist – a fire extinguisher. As we’re sure you know by now, the US Coast Guard issued new regulations for portable, onboard fire extinguishers for recreational vessels using propulsion machinery.

If, by chance, you really haven’t been paying attention, you might want to mend your ways. Fires on boats are nothing to joke about. Remember, regardless of the size of your boat, you’re in a confined space and very close to those fuel tanks you spend so much to regularly fill.

Fires can be deadly, so having up-to-date and working fire extinguishers is critical, despite any eye-rolling or casual shrugging. It can happen to you! We’ve compiled what you need to know about the updated rules in the below article, but if you need a deeper look, here is the full Fire Protection for Recreational Vessels section from the Federal Register.

Most portable fire extinguishers have a date stamp on the bottle. If the extinguisher is more than 12 years old, it is considered “expired” and must be removed from service and replaced.

While the new regulations don’t change the type (US Coast Guard-rated) or number of fire extinguishers required to be aboard your vessel, they do specify the minimum Underwriters Laboratories (UL) classification of extinguishers to be carried aboard certain vessels, depending on the boat’s model year.

Fire extinguisher regulation UL details have been updated for boats
The minimum Underwriters Laboratories (UL) classification of extinguishers to be carried aboard certain vessels has been updated by the US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is phasing out older B-I and B-II labels for newer 5-B, 10-B, and 20-B classifications.

Vessels built on or before 2017 may continue to carry dated or undated B-I or B-II disposable extinguishers. When those extinguishers are no longer serviceable or their manufacture date is more than 12 years ago, however, they must be replaced with newer extinguishers, class 5-B or greater.

What qualifies as “serviceable?” These are the things to check:

  • If the extinguisher has a pressure gauge reading or indicator it must be in the operable range or position
  • The lock pin must be firmly in place
  • The discharge nozzle must be clean and free of obstruction
  • The extinguisher must not show visible signs of significant corrosion or damage

Boats less than 26 feet must carry at least one unexpired 5-B, 10-B, or 20-B fire extinguisher. Older B-I and B-II types do not meet the new carriage requirements. Boats between 26 and 40 feet must carry two 5-B, two 10-B or one 20-B extinguisher. Boats over 40 feet must carry three 5-B, three 10-B, one 20-B and one 5-B, or one 10-B extinguisher.

Expired extinguishers may be carried aboard for backup but do not count toward the requirement. That said, in a life or death situation, do you really want to pick up an extinguisher only to find it to be expired? Why even carry it as a back-up, then?

Many retailers offer 10-B class fire extinguishers, which are always a good choice because they exceed US Coast Guard minimum carriage requirements for boats under 26 feet while giving boaters more extinguishing coverage.

Fire extinguisher regulations have been updated by the US Coast Guard
Fire extinguishers are required aboard all vessels

Maritime safety regulations specify the placement and accessibility of fire extinguishers on boats to ensure prompt response in the event of a fire emergency. Fire extinguishers should be strategically located in easily accessible areas, away from potential sources of heat or flames. Proper mounting brackets or storage compartments should secure them to prevent damage or dislodging during rough seas or sudden maneuvers.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to have more extinguishing power than the Coast Guard requires; it’s one of those better-safe-than-sorry things that you know would make your mom sleep more soundly.

Since fire extinguishers are required on most boats, you most likely already have one aboard. Chances are, though, you’ve never needed to use one, and might not know the proper technique for doing so. Take time to read the directions on your fire extinguisher. You might be surprised about what it can and can’t do.

Non-compliance with fire extinguisher regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines, citations, and legal liabilities. Additionally, failure to meet regulatory standards may lead to increased insurance premiums and reputational damage. Therefore, it’s imperative for boat owners to prioritize compliance with fire extinguisher regulations to safeguard lives, property, and legal interests.

There are, as with everything else, plenty of YouTube videos that can be helpful. There are also some great tips at the Boat U.S. Foundation website.

So, as we come out of shrink-wrap and storage season, you might want to spend some time reviewing all the safety equipment aboard your boat so you’ll be prepared for anything on the water.

Read More: How to Safely Refuel Your Boat: Essential Tips for Boat Refueling

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