Fire extinguisher used to put out boat fire |

The Care and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers

As I write this post, the weather outside is frightful – cold, wet and miserable. A good day to be inside and dreaming about summer cruising. Summer cruising also means getting the boat shipshape.

One of my responsibilities is to have our ABC fire extinguishers checked annually. I take our fire extinguishers to 4 Seasons Fire Prevention Services located at 460 Bay Street in Victoria, BC. Brett at 4 Seasons was kind enough to answer my questions about fire extinguishers. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I always have questions!

The Care and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers |
ABC Fire Extinguisher

The inspection begins on the outside of the fire extinguisher.  The date of manufacture is checked – fire extinguishers manufactured before 1984 are no longer allowed to be serviced. If you have had a rough ride on your boat and the fire extinguisher fell from its mount,  a rolling dent is okay, but a creased dent is not.

The hose is inspected as is the aperture where the hose connects to the canister to make sure that there are no obstructions. The pin is removed and threads are inspected.

Then the gauge is checked for cracks, the pressure is checked and the extinguisher is charged. You might be thinking to yourself that you can do all of this yourself, but the people who service fire extinguishers take an Occupational Health and Safety course, Fire Extinguisher Service Technician.

However, there are some things that you can do to maintain your fire extinguisher.  Vibrations cause the powder inside the extinguisher to pack, so after a bumpy passage be sure to thump the bottom of your fire extinguishers to loosen the powder. Never lay a fire extinguisher on its side. On a boat, it is wise to secure your fire extinguisher by a mounted bracket. As with all fire extinguishers, they should be visible and everyone on your boat should be aware of their location.

Hopefully, you will never have to use your fire extinguisher but if you do, follow these instructions.

  • Pull the pin
  • Aim at the base of the fire
  • Use a sweeping motion until the fire is out
  • Never turn your back on a fire.

If you are away from the dock, alert Coast Guard radio on Channel 16 about your emergency. Things can go from bad to worse in an instant. If you are at the dock, call the fire department if appropriate.

One day at our dock, a passerby noticed a little bit of smoke coming from one of the power boats and mentioned it as he was leaving the dock. We checked it out to discover that the windows were all blackened. We didn’t know if anyone was on board so looked for a way to get inside.

Meanwhile, the volunteer fire department was called and some of us grabbed our fire extinguishers while others tried to break into the boat. Fires in marinas are very dangerous and easy to spread due to all the combustibles on boats and their close proximity to each other. A boat on fire will often be towed out to sea away from other boats to prevent the spread of the fire.

Someone stepped onto the deck and heard it crackle under his feet so he quickly jumped off the boat. The fire was so hot that it was melting the fibreglass. We broke a window and black smoke poured out of the opening. The boat was unsafe for any of us to enter and we wisely waited for the fire department.

Volunteer fireman after boat fire | holisticsailor.comLuckily, no one was inside and the firemen said that the fire had likely been burning slowly all night. Because the boat was airtight, it gradually used up the oxygen and continued to smolder slowly.

Transport Canada regulations require pleasure craft to carry fire fighting equipment depending on your vessel type and size. If you are not sure of the requirements, please see the Safe Boating Guide for these regulations and others. For more information about fire extinguishers, check out this excellent video by Ace

You never think that something bad will happen, but when boating you usually have to handle emergencies on your own. Be safe and be prepared.

3 thoughts on “The Care and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers”

  1. Tara,
    Thank you for your communication.
    I truly appreciate that you have mentioned us as your preferred service provider. The information you have presented rings true as fire protection and other life safety equipment is often set aside and forgotten. I have been involved in the industry for over 20 years and know that taking your emergency equipment for granted can prove to escalate an already stressful emergency situation and take a massive toll on a family (monetary and emotional). Maintaining this equipment takes a nominal amount of time and can take an high stress emergency situation down to a simple inconvenience with a cool headed and rehearsed response.

    At home or on the go…

    I hope your message is well received

    If you require further information or Fire and Life Safety Equipment products and services in the future, we welcome your call 250 381-6617.


    Robert Sonier
    General Manager
    CFAA Registered #12-991746
    Electrical Engineering Technician
    Factory Trained Technician

  2. Fantastic article. Some great advice here. I go through a number of these checks each time I head out on the water. Maybe a little overly cautious but I’d rather be safe than sorry! I recently swapped out my old extinguisher for a new one and found this guide pretty helpful when it came to choosing the right one. The number of people I know who’ve just used a regular old fire extinguisher from home amazes me. Especially in a situation like this where safety is involved! Thought it might help others in the same situation.

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