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Know Your Onboard Extinguishers Before You Need Them
Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 9:34 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

The type of fire extinguisher appropriate for a given area of a vessel should be based upon the likely fire hazard in that area. It’s essential for crew to know the types of fires that could occur on board and be thoroughly familiar with the extinguishers available to fight them.  

The great majority of extinguishers are red in color, but certain types of extinguishers come in stainless steel cylinders. Extinguishers manufactured in the United States do not follow a color-coding system as they do in Europe and in other countries.  Therefore it’s important to be able to identify them by their features.

Identification of extinguishers can be accomplished in several ways: by size, label plate, discharge hose and nozzle or by the presence or absence of a pressure gauge.
Following are the types and characteristics of extinguishers all yacht personnel should be familiar with:  

 Water Extinguishers are stainless steel cylinders with a capacity of two and a half gallons of water. This extinguisher is pressurized with atmospheric air to 100 psi. The discharge hose is made from black rubber with a simple plastic nozzle. The discharge time of a water extinguisher is approximately 60 seconds with a range of 30 feet upon discharge. The range will decrease as pressure decreases.

Water extinguishers are not commonly found on yachts. They are used for Class “A” fires only. If they are found on board, they should be located in cabin areas only.

Foam Extinguishers are stainless steel cylinders with a capacity of two and a half gallons of liquid comprising 94 percent water and six percent foam. The extinguisher is pressurized with atmospheric air to 100 psi. The discharge hose is made from black rubber with a steel or aluminum aspirating nozzle. An aspirating nozzle draws air into the foam solution during discharge, allowing the foam to form bubbles. The discharge time of a foam extinguisher is approximately 60 seconds with a range of 20 feet upon discharge. The range will decrease as pressure dissipates.

Foam extinguishers are commonly found near machinery or engineering spaces or where there is flammable liquid and potential for a Class “B” fire. Foam also can be used on class “A” fires.

Multi Purpose or Ordinary Dry Chemical Extinguishers are steel or aluminum cylinders that are red in color and are found in various sizes. These extinguishers could be small, such as those found in a car, or the large 27-pound, cartridge-operated type. There are several chemical variations in these extinguishers, which determine if the extinguisher is Multi Purpose, Class A, B, C, or Ordinary, Class B, C. These are typically pressurized with nitrogen. Nitrogen is used because it is a non-flammable gas and it also is a dry gas. Atmospheric air cannot be used because of its moisture content.

The range of a Dry Chemical extinguisher can be several feet to 20-plus feet. The discharge time can be a few seconds up to a minute. Range and duration is based upon the extinguisher size.
The discharge hose is black rubber and the nozzle is typically a simple black plastic tube. Each manufacturer has its own type of tip.

Dry Chemical extinguishers can be located throughout the yacht. However, electronics rooms should not have a Dry Chemical extinguisher. Dry chemical is extremely corrosive to soft metals such as copper found in electronic devices. This corrosive nature is due to the high sodium content in the chemical mixture. Electronics rooms should be protected with a CO2 extinguisher. CO2 is not corrosive and does not conduct electricity.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are steel or aluminum cylinders that are red in color and are found in two common sizes, five and 15 pounds. The extinguisher size is based upon how much CO2 is in the extinguisher. The cylinders are formed in one piece; there cannot be any welding, as seams would create a weak point in the cylinder. CO2 is stored as a liquid in the extinguisher and converted into a gas upon discharge. CO2 is a self-expelling type extinguisher, the liquid is pressurized to 850 psi and because of the high pressure it releases itself upon discharge.

The range of a CO2 extinguisher is three to five feet and has a discharge time of approximately 45 seconds. The cylinder must be grounded during discharge. The reason for grounding the extinguisher is the liquid being converted into a gas upon discharge generates a static build up. If the extinguisher is not grounded the static electricity could be discharged into the person operating the extinguisher. Also if the static charge were to jump from the cylinder to an object or person, the spark could cause a fire or explosion if there are sufficient flammable vapors in the air. With the cylinder grounded the hazard is greatly reduced.

The discharge hose is a high-pressure, steel-braided hose covered in black rubber. The nozzle is hard plastic and cone shaped. The nozzle is common to all manufacturers and is the simplest means of identification.

CO2 extinguishers can be found in various places throughout the yacht, but they are not found in living areas or cabin areas because CO2 is not rated for Class “A” fires.

The label plates found on extinguishers manufactured in the United States are required by law to have a pictograph and /or symbol for means of identification. The pictograph will be a trashcan (Class A), gas can (Class B) or an electrical outlet with a plug (Class C). The symbols are a triangle (Class A), square (Class B) or circle (Class C). If you have a fire emergency and have to take the time to read the label plate to determine the type of extinguisher you have, and if it will be effective for the fire, you should not attempt to fight the fire. You must have the knowledge before a fire happens.

Color-coding is another means of extinguisher identification. If you sail on a foreign flag (non-U.S.) yacht, the extinguishers may be color coded as follows:
Red = Water
Cream = Foam
Blue = Powder
Black = CO2
Green = Halon (less common)

To build your crew’s familiarity with the types of extinguishers, try this drill.  Choose any area of the yacht to simulate a fire emergency.   Have each crewmember discover the fire, sound the alarm and then locate the nearest extinguisher. Test their knowledge of the extinguisher and have them determine if it is the correct type for the fire at hand.
By Tom Jones, Training Manager at Resolve Maritime Academy, 1510 S.E. 17 St., Suite 400, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. 33316, Tel: 877-975-3473, info@,
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