Why Are Marine Fire Extinguishers White?

There tends to be a lot of confusion over the different types of fire extinguishers that are out there for your protection. Many people think that the red traditional ones are the only models out there and that these models are all the same. However, in reality that is not necessarily true.

Today, we’ll take a look at some different kinds of fire extinguishers and what you need to keep you safe on your boat.

Why Are Marine Fire Extinguishers White?

It seems that white is simply the traditional color of the canister for marine boating situations. However, a fire extinguisher does not have to be one solid color to fix a fire. Even the traditional red fire extinguishers may have different “sub colors” on them that mean they can handle different fires.

You should always stay up to date and ahead of this information so you do not have to try and decipher information during a panicked moment.

Having a fire onboard of your boat is the 2nd most common reason that you may have to abandon ship. (after sinking of course)

Having fire extinguishers on board not only protect you, but are necessary according to several laws. Although it may be tempting to ignore these rules, many think “I’m surrounded by water”, that is certainly not going to save you in the situation of an onboard fire.

Extinguishers on Your Boat

According to the Coast Guard, you actually need to have one, two, or three extinguishers on your boat depending on a few different factors.

You should check more in-depth to be sure, but generally speaking if you have a boat under 26 feet, you need one extinguisher. If you have a boat up to 40 feet; you’ll need two. And boats up to 65 feet need three.

These are the minimums according to the law; but it really is an individual situation depending on your boat as far as if you should have more.

The problem with many people’s use of fire extinguishers is that they do not store them in places where they will have them no matter what.

Boat Safety, Why Are Marine Fire Extinguishers White? Fire on a boat
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A fire extinguisher is only useful if you can get to it during an emergency. You should keep one in the cockpit and one in each stateroom that you have, and one in the galley away from a stove.

These situations are ones that can get out of hand quite quickly, so using a fire extinguisher just as fast could make the difference between saving the day and having a major disaster.

Obviously, you’ll need to keep your extinguishers mounted so that they are always available in a convenient place and so that they don’t move around while that boat is in motion.

What About the Different Kinds of Extinguishers?

One easy way to remember what kind of fire extinguishers get rid of a certain type of fire is to think about “ABC”.

Class A fires are ones that would cause “ash”. This includes anything solid like paper, wood, cloth, and a lot of different plastics that are flammable.

Class B fires are ones that “boil”. This includes any kind of flammable liquid like grease, gasoline, oil, and countless others.

Class C fires are ones that involve a “charge”. This is when you are dealing with any kind of energized electrical equipment. These are dangerous fires that could shock you if you try to fight it with a water-based extinguisher.

When fighting a Class C fire, you need to cut the electricity as soon as possible. If a Class C fire is not “charged”, it should revert to an A or a B fire.

There are ratings that you can find on an extinguisher that should help you determine what kind of fire it is appropriate to be used for.

When you see numbers, you should think that the higher the number, the better that extinguisher is at fighting that kind of fire. If you do not see a letter, then that extinguisher would not be appropriate to use for that kind of fire.

For example, if you saw an extinguisher that said A-B-C, it would be appropriate for all 3 types of fires. If it only says “B-C’, it would not be helpful during a fire where a bunch of wood and cloth has caught on fire.

You may also see B-I and B-II classifications, which simply refer to the weight of the extinguishing agent.

Using a Portable Extinguisher

When using a fire extinguisher, you probably have about 10 seconds to take advantage of their discharge time, so you should aim to use them before the fire gets too large to deal with.

The fact that fires can often flare up again even after being “attacked” with an extinguisher speaks to the need to carry multiple extinguishers on board, and maybe even more than you really need to carry.

If you struggle to remember how to fight a fire with a portable fire extinguisher, the acronym that you need to think of is the word “Pass”.

To use a fire extinguisher correctly, you need to Pull the pin, Aim the extinguisher, Squeeze the handles, and Sweep at the base of the fire. Many people will incorrectly aim too high, shooting over the base of the flames.

It is good to review this type of information regularly so it sticks in your mind so that you are not struggling to recall information in a moment of panic.

Automatic Extinguishing Systems

While fires are not all that common on boats, engine room fires definitely make up most of these fires that do occur. Some statistics say that as many as 90% of marine fires start in an engine room. 

These could happen because of electrical issues, engines that overheat, or some other various causes like fuel leaks.

One great way to combat these engine fires is to get an automatic engine system that fights fires for you. You’ll need to install these systems according to the manufacturer information.

The best way to protect yourself from a marine fire is to make sure that you are doing maintenance regularly on all of your electrical systems. Anything that is mechanical should be checked as well.

This goes a long way to preventing fires, especially when you also check water intake lines and keep all of your exhaust areas free from any kind of debris.

That doesn’t mean that you will always 100% of the time prevent fires though. If you do see smoke coming from an engine room, you do not want to give it more oxygen as that simply gives the fire more fuel to feed from, which is why an automatic fire extinguisher can be a great idea.

This can give you a huge sense of confidence which is important when you are on a large boat. There are a lot of things that need taken care of when piloting a boat that is large; so taking away from some of your responsibilities is probably a great idea.

Where Should I Keep My Marine Fire Extinguishers?

When you are confident that you have both the extinguishers that you are required to have as well as the ones that you feel give you the sense of safety that you are looking for; you will need to decide where to put them.

If you are on board with the same people regularly, it would make a lot of sense to do regular safety checks with them so that they know where these fire extinguishers are located.

A fire extinguisher doesn’t do anything until you squeeze the handles, so having 100 fire extinguishers on board with people who don’t know what to do with them wouldn’t be helpful.

That being said, you should keep them in the cockpit, in any stateroom, and in the galley. Basically, you never want to feel like you would be in any area of the boat cut off from the other areas by a fire.

On top of that, you should place them in areas that are not likely to be the cause of a fire so that you can get to them easily and put out whatever fire has started.

While much of this information may seem intimidating, it shouldn’t be. Knowing that you and everyone on board of your boat is prepared to handle a fire situation should give you a lot of confidence that you can take care of yourselves on the sea.

While the color of the cannister of the extinguisher may provide you clues as to what is inside, it is not necessary to have a white model for one area or a red model for another.

However, you can use systems to help you understand what is right for your boat and what would be right in any kind of an emergency situation. You are the front line of defense when it comes to fighting a potential fire on your boat, so be sure to do your homework and take appropriate precaution.