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How prepared for a boating fire safety?
Most recreational boaters want to have a good time. They bring food, drinks, and sunscreen. They prepare their boats ahead of time with proper floatation devices, first aid kits, and some even call a friend with their boating plan – just in case. I bet they even know how to swim. Even less prepared boaters have done some of these things. Wait a second. You belong to a boat club and your friends and family have their boating licenses. You’ve even remembered your fishing licenses. It’s time to get on the water, right?
Not so fast. You need boating fire safety knowledge to protect yourself and any passengers on your boat. It wouldn’t hurt to show your kids and friends the safety features as well. Nothing can wreck a great day on the Tampa Bay like a boat fire.
I don’t mean to rain on your parade. I like a relaxed boat day as much as the next Floridian. However, I’ve been on recreational boat my entire life. I have my boating license and I’m SCUBA certified. Yet, until becoming a fire extinguisher technician – I have never been educated on boat fire safety. I was today many years old upon discovering marine fire safety rules and regulations.
And I know what you’re thinking. “Well, if you’ve been on boats for the past 30 years and nothing bad has ever happened…doesn’t that mean you’re fine? Why do I need to know about fire protection?” On some level, you are right. A boat accident resulting in death is unlikely to happen to you.
U.S. Coast Guard’s 2019 Boating Accident Statistics:
- Florida is the leading state for boating accidents. We do have the most coastline…
- The one of the leading causes of boating accidents is operator inexperience.
- 379 boating accidents in 2019 were caused by machine failure – generally engine failure
- Approximately 50 accidents were caused by fuel or vapor ignition, resulting in fire
Let me give you a crash course in boating fire safety. These quick tips and information may save your boat and possibly your life.
Marine Fire Extinguishers
When you are on a boat, the USCG requires that you have fire extinguishers. Not just any old fire extinguishers, but marine rated B class extinguishers. This means that the USCG knows that B class fires are the mostly likely to occur on a vessel. B class fire are fires that are caused by flammable or combustible liquids, such as gasoline and diesel.
When choosing a fire extinguisher, these types are great. However, they won’t put out any other types of fires. So, if ordinary materials such as trash combust or you have an electrical fire, you’ll need something different. I’d recommend a marine-rated ABC fire extinguisher. These can be the same size, but their fire rating covers Class A, B, and C fires (hence the name ABC). One downside is that they do produce dust and ash.
Be sure to select a fire extinguisher that is USCG approved for your vessel. The Coast Guards requires a B1 rated fire extinguisher for vessels under 26 feet long. If you are on a larger boat (26 feet to less than 40 feet) you’ll need either two B1 rated fire extinguishers or one B2 fire extinguisher. Lucky you, you’re recreationally boating on a large boat (40-65 feet). You are required to have 3 B1 extinguishers or a combination of 1 B1 and 1 B2 extinguishers.
Not sure how to assess the rating of your fire extinguisher? On the informational panel you will see markings with letters. A and B letters have numbers preceding them. The marine rating is listed as well. See the extinguisher below for an example. This Ansul model is marine rated B1.
Installation and Usage
Having a fire extinguisher onboard is the first step. Preparing yourself to use the extinguisher is the second critical step. Extinguishers are required to have written and pictorial instructions on the front. Familiarize yourself with the instructions. In the event of a fire, you will be calmer and better prepared to discharge the extinguisher effectively. If you boat with other people, it is important to at least identify the location of your fire extinguisher(s). Now your passengers are equipped to help too.
Finally, not all fire extinguishers are required to be mounted to the boat, but it is helpful. Mounted fire extinguishers are easily located. They are also safer. If you have your extinguisher loose, it will probably be out of the way under a seat or in a compartment. These are more difficult to locate if a fire breaks out. They can also become damaged or possibly discharge in your boat. Damaged or empty fire extinguishers will not help you in the event of a boat fire. Mounting brackets are specially made for movement. Be sure to purchase one with the proper bands to hold the extinguisher still. Fire extinguisher hangers are made for stationary walls only.
Fixed Fire Suppression Systems
If your boat doesn’t have an enclosed engine compartment, this does not apply to you. If it does, here are some basics to take your fire protection skill and safety to the next level. Much like kitchens, boats with an engine compartment are required to have a fixed fire suppression system. These are also known as: marine fire suppression systems, vessel fire suppression systems, boat fire suppression systems, clean agent fixed fire suppression systems, and yacht fire suppression systems. The name is irrelevant, the fire protection is not.
Vessel fire suppression systems are much like fire extinguishers. They operate with a cylinder containing a clean agent (extinguishing gas that will not make a mess in your engine compartment) and a heat sensor. They activate when the temperature in the engine compartment reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit (older models may activate ate 160 degrees).
The idea is that they will activate automatically and suppress an engine fire without you ever needing to open the engine compartment or needs to intervene. This is great as engine fires are highly dangerous and become larger when you open the engine compartment, due to the additional of oxygen. I would highly suggest you research these systems or call a fire equipment dealer that specializes in marine fire suppression systems. This way you can make a more informed decision about your fire protection needs. Two popular wholesalers are Fireboy-Xintex or SeaFire.
Now that you’ve read this article, it’s time to inspect your boat’s fire safety equipment. If you find anything lacking or have questions or concerns – contact your licensed fire equipment dealer. If you are located in the Tampa Bay area, give All Florida Fire a call. Trained associates are ready to answer your questions and certified fire extinguisher and suppression technicians can give you a free consultation on your boat’s needs.
If you have other boating concerns, you can also schedule a vessel safety inspection through USCG These checks are free and are not pass/fail. If your boat does not mee the safety requirements you receive a report detailing the items and information on how to remedy them. Now, you get out there and safely enjoy the water.