Fires can be extremely dangerous in a marine environment due to limited response time, indication of situation and the containment of high temperature burns. It is important to know how to respond to the complications presented by boat fires.
Today, a number of fire extinguishers and fire suppressant systems are available to combat this dilemma whether you are present to activate them or not.
Fire Extinguisher Coding System
The universal coding is depicted in a pictorial manner along with an alphameric class designation:
[A] Wood, paper, cloth, trash, plastics, solid combustible materials that are not metals. (Class A fires generally leave an Ash.)
[B] Flammable liquids: gasoline, oil, grease, and acetone, any non-metal in a liquid state, on fire. This classification also includes flammable gases. (Class B fires generally involve materials that Boil or Bubble.)
[C] Electrical: energized electrical equipment, as long as it's "plugged in," it would be considered a class C fire. (Class C fires generally deal with electrical Current.)
[D] Metals: potassium (K), sodium (Na), aluminum (Al), magnesium (Mg).
Since all fire extinguishers inhibit fire at the fuel-oxygen interface the force of the expellant should be directed at the base of the fire. This will effectively "coat" the fuel and reduce the burn.
Safety on a boat is the number-one priority. Steps should always be taken ensure the protection of its passengers and crew before expending effort on the fire: lifejackets should be donned, Coast Guard contacted, and other nearing vessels warned.
When confronting the fire, try to separate combustibles or obvious fire fuel if possible. With the gasses produced from plastics, fiberglass and foam found on many boats, you might have very little time before inhalation becomes a problem.
DO NOT spend large amounts of time trying to out think the fire. If you can, properly discharge the fire extinguisher and move on to safety issues. This is where a properly installed suppression system is ideal.
Manual or automatic, the system is ready to be triggered, leaving you time to deal with other safety issues. Systems that are automatic have the additional benefit of being triggered without going below deck or even being on the boat. These systems can also be installed with distribution hoses that deliver the needed retardant directly to the fire related incident.
Remember to have your fire extinguishers, suppressant systems and detectors checked regularly. It's also an important to keep those service tags attached and up to date.
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