New USCG Rule: Update Boat Fire Extinguishers by April 20

By OceanGrafix.

Beginning April 20, 2022, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) will require all boaters with vessels over 26 feet to have updated fire extinguishers, mandating that all extinguishers have a 12-year (or less) expiration date from the date of manufacture.

Why the attention on fire extinguishers? There were 767 boating fatalities in the United States in 2020, an increase of more than 25 percent from 2019, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. And, fires are a major contributor to injuries and deaths. In fact, Coast Guard data from 2018 shows over 150 fatalities and 200 injuries resulted from fires or explosions on vessels.

A summary of the new guidelines

Here is a simplified explanation of the new extinguisher requirements, which depend on the model year of the boat:

  • Model year 2018 or newer: Extinguishers must be labeled as 5-B, 10-B or 20-B. Extinguishers labeled with B-I or B-II only are no longer acceptable. The manufacturing date must not be more than 12 years old.
  • Model year 2017 or older: Extinguishers labeled B-I or B-II are valid, but the manufacturing date must not be more than 12 years old.

Beyond varying by the date of the boat’s model year, the guidelines also change according to the length of boat. Motorized boats under 26 feet are exempt as long as they have outboard engines, fuel is in a portable tank, and there are no areas in the boat that could trap fuel vapors.

In addition, the guidelines address the functionality of the extinguisher itself. Extinguishers must be “serviceable.” This means the pressure gauge must be in the operable range, the lock pin has to be in place, the discharge nozzle has to be clean and clear, and the extinguisher, itself, must not show signs of corrosion or damage. This flow chart by type of craft helps sort out the new USCG fire extinguisher requirements for boat owners.

A quick Q&A about the new rule

Here are some of the most common questions and answers about the USCG fire extinguisher rule.

Is any fire extinguisher automatically approved?

No. The label on the bottle should state “Marine Type – USCG Approved.” Underwriters Labs (UL) approves fire extinguishers on behalf of the USCG. (Further requirements are listed above.)

Are sailboats exempt from this new rule?

Sailboats are not necessarily exempt. The rule mainly applies to motorboats with permanently installed fuel tanks or a storage area where portable fuel tanks may be stored. However, the rule also applies to sailboats with spaces that are capable of trapping fumes, such as a galley, and to sailboats with auxiliary engines.

Where do I find the fire extinguisher expiration date?

Boaters often can find the manufacture date stamped into the bottom of the container or near the UL label. This may be two or four digits — if it is two, as in 08, that means 2008.

What is a Type B fire extinguisher?

A Type B extinguisher is effective with a gasoline fire, which is the most common type of fire on a boat.

What does the number before the “B” stand for?

The number before the “B” in the new rating refers to the size in square feet of the potential fire the device is suitable to extinguish. So, a 10-B extinguisher can handle a 10-square-foot gasoline fire. A “C” rating means the extinguisher can douse electrical fires.

How many extinguishers are required?

Depending on the size of your boat, you may need more than one. Boats less than 26 feet have to have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26 feet to 40 feet need at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board. If your boat is between 40 and 65 feet, you need to have either three B1 extinguishers or two B2 extinguishers. If the boat has a USCG approved fire extinguisher system installed for protection of the engine compartment, then the required number may be reduced.

Do extinguishers require any maintenance?

Every month, the extinguishers should be turned upside down and shaken to prevent clumping when they are needed.

Must the extinguishers be mounted?

It is highly recommended to mount the fire extinguisher, but it is not a requirement to mount the fire extinguisher. All portable extinguishers must be readily accessible.

What is the fine for being out of compliance?

States generally (but not always) leave extinguisher compliance to the USCG. The USCG is focused on boat operator safety and prefers cooperation to fines.