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Fire extinguishers

How many fire extinguishers should I have on my 50 foot cruiser stern narrowboat?

Asked by: Paul Taylor  | 3.15pm, Saturday 7 September

WW says:

Three is the short answer, but they need to be the right type to meet the requirements of the Boat Safety Scheme.
Fire extinguishers are rated as to their capability to put out a fire. Fires are categorised as A, B, or C; with a number that relates to the capacity of the extinguisher. The minimum size fire extinguisher allowed under the BSS is 5A 34B.
The BSS requirement for a boat over 11m (36ft) long, is a minimum of three extinguishers with a combined rating of 21A / 144B. Chandlers usually sell 8A / 55B extinguishers; so three of these give a total of 24A / 165B, exceeding the requirement. Shorter boats only need two extinguishers with a combined rating of 13A / 89B, if between 7 and 11m (23 to 36ft); or 10A / 68B if less than 7m long.
There are cheap fire extinguishers around that are either not rated at all or not independently verified, and these will fail the BSS. Ensure that the fire extinguishers have an accreditation mark on them; the easiest one to spot is the British Standard Institute symbol, but there are other marks that are accepted by the BSS.
Boats which do not have either any fuel burning appliances OR an engine, can reduce the number of extinguishers by one, and the combined rating by 5A / 34B.

Rupert Smedley  | 6.36PM, Saturday 7 September

I would strongly suggest that you also have at least one extinguisher that has a greater size than the 1kg powder extinguisher which many chandlers sell that meets a rating of 8A/55B.
A 1kg powder extinguisher only has a discharge time of 6-8 seconds and can only deal with very small fires. It may be prudent to consider carrying a 4 or 6kg powder in addition to smaller extinguishers- and this would be best placed by the aft cabin doors.
Extinguishers do not have to be powder- foam spray (AFFF; aqueous film forming foam) has both an A and a B rating, and has several advantages- powder is messy (any electrical equipment it comes into contact with will probably be ruined) and has limited cooling effects on class A fires, whereas AFFF can actively prevent reignition. AFFF also forms a thin seal on flammable liquid fires, so preventing reignition (or them catching light in the first place, such as with a spillage of petrol). AFFF also has usually passed the conductivity test of BS EN3, so if accidentally sprayed on live electrical equipment, it won't electrocute the user. Foam also causes far less damage to running machinery. They do need to be bigger, however, as a 1kg powder is approximately equal in rating to a good 2 lit AFFF unit.
For most boat users, taking into account the BSS position, as Rupert has mentioned, having larger equipment aboard is a good idea- you tend to be able to get one chance at extinguishing a fire, so having more capacity in extinguishers is a good idea.
Online extinguisher companies often sell higher rated 2kg powders at very competitive prices, as well as 3 and 6 litre foam spray. I personal think that two 2kg powder, one 4kg powder and a 3 or 6 litre AFFF unit would be ideal for most boats.
Don't forget that smoke alarms (possibly of both optical and ionisation types) throughout the boat are essential, as are carbon monoxide alarms.
However, all the fire safety equipment does not preclude sensible installation, ventilation and good housekeeping/maintenance to minimise the risk of fires in the first place.

Mark Langley  | 7.18PM, Saturday 7 September

Readers say:

Why not approach your local fire station for more advice. The fire brigade can show you how to use the extinguishers. When in a panic as you may well be it may matter if you use the wrong type of extinguisher for the type of fire you might just have to deal with(liquid fuel, electric,cooking oil,wood *gas! or any combination). Should you even try to tackle a gas fire? Your safety is more important than the boat that can be replaced.
When is the last time you had your fire extinguisher serviced.
Buy a fire blanket as well.
I am not a fireman so can not give advice.
From label on MacGas Butane bottle. MacGas:0845 300 0038.
If gas appliance stays lit when gas bottle switched to the 'off' position. 1, leave alight 2, do not disconnect bottle. 3, summon dealer (Gary adds or fire brigade) explain the situation.

Gary  | 7.36PM, Saturday 14 September

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