Fire Extinguisher Frustration! Don’t Leave the U.S. Without Current Extinguishers!

Our first boat survey done outside the U.S. went very very well for an almost 30 year old boat … with one not so minor exception!  🙂  First read the explanation taken from my Winterlude Update of December 2008, and then the postscript!

Fire Extinguisher Mounted in the Head

Fire Extinguisher Mounted in the Head

As I mentioned, our only problem with our survey (you can’t get insurance on the boat without a survey every few years & this year was our turn) was our fire extinguishers & flares were out of date. Not a big problem unless you happen to be in Central America.

We knew before leaving the US that this was going to be a problem, but the airlines are pretty strict about NOT allowing fire extinguishers & flares in checked baggage. You would assume that buying them in Colon with all the boats passing this way would not be a problem, but the only versions they had were for BIG container ships — the fire extinguisher would have taken up my entire KITCHEN!!!

So last Saturday we went on an adventure to Panama City (only 30 miles but 3 hours away due to road construction & impossible traffic) in search of fire extinguishers & flares. And voila, the very first marine store we stopped had both! So afterwards we celebrated by buying WAY too much food & other “necessary” items at PriceSmart (the Shelter Bay bus driver, Victor, had a membership card & “bought” our stuff) and then Panama’s version of Trader Joe’s, Riba Smith at the MultiPlex mall.

Postscript:  We had been dreading the boat’s insurance survey done in Panama.  But the surveyor was OK, except that he flunked us on our fire extinguishers – not because the indicators weren’t in the GREEN because they were.  No, there wasn’t an updated sticker with a current expiration date?  Huh?  Something we’ve never heard of, of course.

Even the US Coast Guard when we returned three years later approved the fire extinguishers that the Panama surveyor flunked.  The biggest problem with flunking fire extinguishers when you’re in Panama is that you are required to replace them before the insurance company will approve our insurance.  So we can’t leave Panama before replacing the fire extinguishers.

Indicator in the Green

Indicator in the Green

BUT, you cannot just pack a fire extinguisher in your return luggage and fly them back to the boat like most boat parts, oh no!  Finally, a trip to Abernathy’s in Panama City yielded fire extinguishers that were $125 for something that would cost $59 in the U.S.  Oh, and the cost of the trip to Panama City, made the stupid extinguishers 300% more expensive than we needed to pay.  PLUS — and this is the really frustrating part — three years later, the fire extinguishers we bought in Panama City are DEAD — i.e. not indicating in the green on the indicator — and the original fire extinguishers are still indicating green.

If you’re curious if your boat meets the US Coast Guard standards for fire extinguishers, if you’re between 26 – 40 feet, you are required to have one B-II or two B-I fire extinguishers.  For complete US Coast Guard requirements, click here to download a PDF of the USCG requirements brochure. Fire extinguishers are on page 12 & 13.

Insurance is always one of cruising life’s most frustrating moments!



  1. As we are not required to have expiration stickers in the US, do you think we could make some up that look professional and stick them the fire extinguishers?

  2. Just FYI, it was very easy to have fire extinguishers re-certified in Mexico, and then they give you a new official tag. They can also re-load them if they’ve been used. About 1/3 the cost of a new extinguisher.

    Our experience was that every marina office knew where to get them re-certified, and if several people needed them at the same time, they’d arrange for pickup and delivery.

    Also know of people who had them re-certified in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador — there, it was the cruisers’ favorite taxi driver who knew where to take them and he’d do it for you.

    P.S. to Charlotte — I just checked my US extinguishers, and the ones that are refillable have an expiration tag, those that aren’t refillable don’t.

Speak Your Mind