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Use the right extinguisher

A fire on a boat is a serious matter. To extinguish it successfully, the fire must be relatively small, and you'll need to get to it quickly, which means having the appropriate fire extinguisher close at hand.

Coast Guard rules determine how many and what type of extinguisher a boat must carry (one to three), and this is not an area where you should skimp, either in the number of devices or their fire-fighting capacity. Although they cost a little more, consider purchasing tri-class (ABC) extinguishers, which work on all three types of fires typically found on recreational boats: Class A fires (ordinary combustible materials such as wood, paper, plastic and fiberglass); Class B (flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil and kerosene); and Class C (energized electrical equipment, including wiring, fuse boxes and machinery). Never try to put out a Class B or C fire with water. And remember, the residue from some dry-chemical extinguishers is corrosive to electronics and metal, and should be cleaned up immediately. Also, using a dry chemical extinguisher near an operating engine's air intake could cause internal damage.

Extinguishers should be mounted properly and inspected regularly to make sure they are fully charged. Replace or recharge after any use.

Do not attempt to fight a fire if you don't have a clear exit. If possible, turn off the fuel supply feeding the flames, and position the boat so that the fire is downwind.

Operate the extinguisher using the PASS technique:

  • Pull the pin, which also breaks the tamper seal.
  • Aim low, pointing the horn, hose or nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle to release the agent.
  • Sweep the base of the fire with a side-to-side motion.

See related articles:

- Setting boats ablaze in the name of safety

- Understanding boat fires

October 2012 issue