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MedSailor 08-16-2014 01:46 PM

Inspecting fire extinguishers
In my recent pre purchace survey one of the few high priority safety findings was that my fire extinguishers did not have documentation of a current inspection. The recommendation was to have a certified inspector check them yearly.

Whaaaa? Is this a new ABYC reg? I've never heard of this before. I shall comply not only for insurance reasons but also because I trust these surveyors and fire aboard is bad I hear.

I see extinguishers in commercial buildings with tags but it makes me wonder what is done as part of the inspection? From a practical standpoint are they really useful and necessary?

Yearly is a bit of a bear. I dislike anything critical aboard that I can't maintain myself. Getting them inspected abroad isn't going to happen.

Any pyros or code experts who know more about this than I do care to comment?


capta 08-16-2014 02:31 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
It is normal to have your fire extinguishers checked and certified every year and I do believe a USCG requirement.
However, I've found with the general 3.5 pound ABC or BC extinguishers required, it's cheaper to just buy new ones (certified for a year from date of purchase, so keep the receipt for the CG) each year, rather than have the guy come out and weigh and check them.
However, if you have a larger extinguisher (automatic or remote operated) in the engine space, that certainly isn't cheaply replaceable. But if you are confident that that extinguisher is OK (you can remove it and weigh it yourself, but it won't be certified), it is not necessarily a required extinguisher, so you'll be fine with the legal minimum of cheap extinguishers, the old ones being a bonus or for practice.

chuck53 08-16-2014 03:16 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
A buddy of mine teaches the Power Squadron Boating safety class. According to him, basic marine extinguishers are stamped on the bottom (and mine are) with the year of mfg. As long as the guage is in the green and they are 12 years old or less, they are good to go.
Both of mine were more than 12 so I bought 3 new for each sleeping cabin and own within arms reach of the galley and engine room.

FYI, if you have an extinguisher without a date is way more than 12 years old. One of mine was and it is no longer in service.

JimsCAL 08-16-2014 04:32 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
Good info Chuck. I was boarded by the USCG a couple of weeks ago for a random safety check (I was under sail at the time!!) and they just looked at the gauges to see if they were in green. They commented that mine were just barely (which I knew) but that's it. Didn't check date of mfr.

PaulinVictoria 08-16-2014 05:14 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
If they are powder ones, take them off the mount every 6 months, hold them upside down and give the bottom a sharp tap with a rubber mallet, ensures that the power isn't settling to form a block at the bottom.

hellosailor 08-16-2014 05:47 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
I'm thinking they should just be refilled with ether.

No really. Kidde will sell extinguishers with six year warranties, and I can't see that they expect the extinguisher to need annual servicing in each of those years. But, a fire captain giving a refresher class last week said all dry powder extinguishers in his experience needed to be replaced every year. Because the cost of inspecting and refilling them was more than the cost of replacing them (handhelds, i.e. up to 5 or 10# size) and they were totally unreliable after one year.

He's probably discharged more of them than I've ever met, but condemning them all at one year....I don't know, I suspect Kidde knows more about extinguishers than he does.

You know, in most large cities there are con men with a great racket, they wander into offices and say "We're from the extinguisher company..." and then they swap 'em out and leave huge bills. The front desk rarely asks which company, or where the contract is. An old and common con, because people keep falling for it.

Ask your local USCG Aux or Power Squadron for a free safety inspection, or ask their senior inspector about fire extinguishers. And if no one cites you an actual law, an actual chapter and verse of code? Give 'em the ether filled extinguisher and tell them to use it up during a demonstration. (Is that evil? I'm trying hard to be evil, karma needs balancing.)

Also do bear in mind that for all safety equipment (extinguishers & pyros alike) you may be required to have xx pieces that are within date--but then you are also allowed to have whatever old outdated ones you want, also present on the boat. They do NOT have to meet any compliance regulations, because they are NOT part of the mandatory equipment.

So you can certainly keep the old ones as long as you have faith in them, regardless of needing (probably one or two?) newer dated ones.


"Fire Extinguisher Maintenance
Inspect extinguishers monthly to make sure that:
• Seals and tamper indicators are not broken or missing
• Pressure gauges or other indicators, if so equipped, read in
the operable range as described on the extinguisher
• There is no obvious physical damage, rust, corrosion,
leakage, or clogged nozzles
If the minimum weight is stated on the extinguisher label, weigh extinguishers
annually to check
Fire extinguishers that do not satisfy the above requirements or that
have been partially emptied must be replaced or taken to a qualified fire
extinguisher servicing company for recharge"

And there's no mention of anyone needing to sign you off on that.

No mention of dating.

Where they say "inspection" can be done by any idiot. Maintenance, if needed, should be done by certified idiots. And non-refillable extinguishers should follow the NFPA and be thrown out at TWELVE YEARS of age.

I suspect your surveyor mistook your boat for a commercial/mandatory service vessel, and should be sent to work in a shipbreaker's yard in Pakistan for a while.

saillife 08-16-2014 06:27 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
My surveyor said what PaulinVictoria said. As long as they are green and under 12 years your OK. He did say you should turn them upside down and shake them a couple of times a year to keep the powder from settling too much.

After the survey I went ahead and replaced them (had the boat 9 years and they were original) and figured once every 5 years was good enough. The shaking/hitting with a rubber mallet makes sense to me. As to how often you replace.... well it's one of those how well you can sleep at night deals.


chuck53 08-16-2014 07:05 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
During the boating safety class my buddy was teaching, when he told us about the 12 year limit, I went to my boat to check mine. One was about 25 years old. My friend/instructor had enough fire extinguishers for all in the class to try one a big trash can, not on a fire...just to know how to use it. MY 25 yo unit seemed to work just fine.
He also had enough flares and flare shells for everyone to strike a flare and fire a flare gun just for the experience of having done it while not in an emergency situation.

I agree with hitting the units with a rubber mallet from time to time. often, during the course of the year, I will take mine off their mounting and just lay them horizontally on a settee while we are not on the boat, just so they don't settle to the bottom. Do that often enough and you don't have to do the rubber mallet thing.

Azzarac 08-16-2014 08:42 PM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
I'd like to add that my time spent in corporate facilities management we were tasked with inspecting and maintaining all of our fire extinguishers. All those found to be out of date would be taken to a "safe area" where all of our first responders would get the chance to extinguish a live fire in a trash barrel. It always surprised people as to how critical aiming was and that you couldn't simply spray a burst of chemicals willy-nilly. Most folks instinctively attack the flame instead of the base of the fire which would inevitably spread the fire instead of putting it out. If you have an extinguisher you are replacing I would highly recommend trying it out or taking it to your city's fire chief and inquire about demonstrations on how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

SchockT 08-17-2014 01:15 AM

Re: Inspecting fire extinguishers
Like almost all yacht clubs in our area, an annual safety inspection is mandatory and is a condition of mooring both at the home port and using club outstations. Part of those safety inspections is having an annual inspection of the fire extinguishers, so on safety weekend one of the local fire systems companies has a truck come down and they inspect and tag the extinguishers for $5 each. If they are 6 years out of date based on the stamp on the bottom, then they open them up, fill them with fresh powder, inspect and test the valves and cylinder, and re-certify them for another 6 years for $10. In both cases it is significantly cheaper than buying a new one unless you are buying REALLY crappy fire extinguishers!

When they are inspecting them they are looking for corrosion that may interfere with the valve operation, checking pressure, and making sure the fire retardant powder hasn't caked inside. Apparently when that has happened you can feel the contents slide back and forth when you turn it over. They usually just need to give it a couple of thumps with a rubber hammer to loosen it up, but sometimes it needs to be refilled.

When I am unable to make it down to the boat for safety weekend I just take my extinguishers in to their shop to get them inspected. If you work in an office building and you know that the building fire systems are being tested on a certain day, (up here it must be done annually), then you might even be able to bring them in to work and have the guys check them at the same time.

Personally I don't mind paying a few bucks every year to know that if I really need my fire extinguishers they are going to function correctly!

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