Boat fire extinguishers: Four myths from the BoatUS Foundation

Here’s a timely post by the the BoatUS Foundation. During a recent vessel safety check by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, they covered most of these fire extinguisher myths with us.

Every spring, the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water receives questions from boaters about fire extinguishers. To help set the record straight here are four fire extinguisher myths debunked:Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.45.16 AM

Myth #1: Tapping or striking the extinguisher keeps the contents “fresh”.
Reality: Leave the mallet at home. Unlike days of old, today’s modern fire extinguishers don’t use chemicals that cake, get hard, or need to be broken up. Whacking it with a mallet or hammer could compromise the extinguisher’s ability to put out a fire.

Myth #2: All extinguishers must be mounted with a bracket.
Reality: Mounting a fire extinguisher on a bracket keeps the unit in a handy place and may protect it from being banged around the boat, but it is not a legal requirement. You do, however, need to ensure the extinguisher is readily accessible, so leaving it at the bottom of locker or compartment is a big no-no.

Myth #3: Fire extinguishers get old and go “bad” every year.
Reality: Unlike flares, fire extinguishers have no expiration date. To meet US Coast Guard carriage requirements however, the extinguisher must be Coast Guard approved and in “good and serviceable” condition. The charge indicator needs to be in the green zone, the nozzle free of obstruction and the cylinder not rusted.

Myth #4: The law says you only need to carry one extinguisher.
Reality: US Coast Guard minimum equipment requirements dictate that larger vessels require more than one fire extinguisher. While a full list of all minimum safety gear requirements for all boat sizes can be found at, don’t let that stop you from adding additional extinguishers. Having back-ups may help save your boat and won’t break your budget.

For more on fire extinguishers, go to

2 Responses to Boat fire extinguishers: Four myths from the BoatUS Foundation

  1. Doug Bostrom April 21, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Reading incident reports, it’s not uncommon to see that a fire extinguisher was present at a fire but on the wrong side of the fire and thus worthless. An extinguisher in a locker on deck in addition to whatever others are on the boat and likely down below is a great thing.

  2. David Geller April 20, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    I’d like to suggest that as a good measure, recycle your extinguishers every few years – even if not required. Use the old one(s) for training by having family/crew practice using them. Learn how to properly use them by spraying them somewhere where their contents can be safely be cleaned-up. Surprisingly few people have actually used a fire extinguisher and the more comfortable they are with the simple actions and motions the more useful the tool will be. The cost for this “training maneuver” is simply the cost of a new extinguisher. And who doesn’t love an excuse to revisit West Marine or Home Depot!

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