Marine Fire Suppression Systems

Welcome to Coltraco Ultrasonics’ range of portable Liquid Level Indicators specifically for the marine environment.

We pride ourselves in our UK made, high-quality, reliable, and accurate instrumentation designed for ship owners, servicing companies, marine surveyors, and crew to inspect fire suppression systems such as CO2, FM-200™, NOVEC™ 1230, Halons and a wide variety of other clean agents.

We have been developing non-invasive level detection technology for over 30 years and are proud leaders in this field.

The Portasteele® CALCULATOR is the perfect partner to any of Coltraco Ultrasonics’ liquid level detectors. It allows you to convert your measured liquid level to an agent weight, precisely and accurately. These readings can then be saved and exported for future reference and traceability. 

Used in partnership with the Portalevel® Ultrasonic Level Indicator range 

P/N: CALC-007

Portamarine® is a low-cost, portable, and battery powered liquid level indicator designed to non-invasively, accurately, and reliably measure the level of fire suppression agent contained within a cylinder. Portamarine® is suitable for most standard size cylinders containing CO2, Liquified Clean Agents and Halons and is specifically equipped for use onboard marine vessels and environments in the marine sector.

P/N: 2290334-COPM
IMPA MSG P/N: 652777


Portalevel® MAX MARINE PLUS is a highly capable, handheld liquid level indicator with ABS Type Approval for marine applications in level monitoring. Portalevel® MAX MARINE PLUS is fast, accurate, and reliable; with a survivable construction and cutting-edge ultrasonic capabilities, it allows an operator to non-invasively monitor the liquid level of almost any CO2, Halon, or Clean Agent fire suppression system at sea.

P/N: 2290334-COMXPSM
NSN: 6680-99-192-2735
IMPA MSG P/N: 652776


Why choose Coltraco Ultrasonics’ range of Ultrasonic Liquid Level Indicators?

Better: Using ultrasonic technology to check the contents of your fire suppression cylinders is non-invasive, non-destructive and non-disruptive meaning it is safer for personal and does not require the user to shut down the fire suppression system during inspection. The use of ultrasonic technology is a regulatory-approved alternative method for monitoring the contents of cylinders. Our range of ultrasonic liquid level indicators is accurate to ±1.5 mm.

Faster: The non-disruptive, non-invasive nature of ultrasound contents monitoring allows testing to take place when the fire suppression cylinders are in-situ and operational. This process takes around 30 seconds per cylinder using our easy-to-use, intuitive technology. Compare this to traditional, manual weighing which requires lifting equipment, multiple people and around 15 minutes for inspection.

Cheaper; Enabling inspection to take place without disruption to your cylinder installation means no shut-down, saving time and no requirement for multiple operators, saving labour costs. We have a large range of level monitoring technology allowing us to be competitive with pricing and Coltraco Ultrasonics have a “Price Promise” to be the most competitive on the market.

Marine Fire Systems

Coltraco Ultrasonics have over 30 years of experience proudly operating across the maritime industry alongside ship owners, ship managers, marine surveyors, port authorities, shipyards and classification societies. As of 2021, over 20% of the world’s ocean-going vessels use our technology on board. Fire remains the second principal reason for the loss of ships at sea, primarily due to inadequate, or poorly maintained fire suppression systems.  

Marine fire suppression systems consist of a group of banked fire cylinders, which are typically high-pressure CO2 and are integral for protecting vital infrastructure, people and assets from damage due to fire. Fire suppression systems are used to extinguish, control and prevent fires from spreading. The majority of fires onboard marine vessels begin in the engine room, where machinery is operating under pressure and at high temperatures.  

Although most marine fire suppression systems contain CO2, we specialise in the monitoring of all types of liquified fire suppression agents, such as CO2, FM-200™, NOVEC™ 1230 (clean agents) and Halons.

“Protecting your marine operations from devastation due to fire at sea”

In the event a fire is detected the centralised monitoring system located in the control room, or bridge will trigger the alert system which activates the fire suppression system. The cylinder valves are opened, and the pressure of the cylinders drives the agent through a pipe network to be discharged at the point of fire. In some cases, these systems are supported by ancillary nitrogen cylinders if the distance the agent needs to travel is great.

Fires onboard ships are not rare events. In fact, fire remains the 2nd principal reason for the loss of ships at sea. When at sea, the crew are required to become firefighters in a fire event, yet this is not their primary role onboard. Ships tend to use fixed CO2 fire suppression systems because it is effective, and CO2 is a cheap agent. Therefore, often fire safety is treated as a tick-box exercise.
The danger of CO2 loss is highlighted by Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter, CEO of Coltraco Ultrasonics who has 30 years of experience in the shipping and offshore industry: “We estimate that 20% of ships are sailing with a loss of CO2, due to high pressurisation leakage or accidental discharge. This inevitably means that the design concentration of the CO2 will be insufficient to control fire.”

If the gaseous extinguishing systems are partially empty, due to leakage or discharge, they will not be available in the event of a fire. This a risk that no shipping company can afford, both with the cost of life and the cost of vessel loss.

The crew, cargo and vessel must be protected when at sea because it is its own fire brigade without accessibility to typical emergency services.

Marine fire systems, like all safety-critical infrastructure, are regulated. Chapter 5 in the IMO SOLAS FSS Code which details how vessels’ fire extinguishing systems should be checked for leaks states that the crew onboard ship are not qualified to undertake CO2 servicing as it requires the dismantling, weighing and re-installation of the complete system, which must be done by a licensed organisation when the ship is in port. The code states that; “means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers.” To implement the IMO SOLAS FSS code, portable liquid level indicators such as our marine variant Portalevel™ range can be used onboard, allowing the crew to meet the IMO SOLAS code while underway between servicing schedules.

Considering the average ship may have 600 cylinders, and a ship may only be in port for 4 hours, the need for speed is paramount to conduct a rigorous inspection of each cylinder.

Today you can use portable ultrasonic liquid level indicators, the Portalevel® MAX Marine PLUS to check the fill level of the agent takes one person and just 30 second*. If weight is still the preferred result, a calculator can convert the level to weight in 30 seconds by an intuitive tablet app the Portasteele® CALCULATOR.

Ultrasound & Ultrasonic Liquid Level Operating Principle

All of our liquid-level indicators use ultrasonic sensors to identify the contents of fire suppression cylinders. Ultrasonic sensor technology or Ultrasonic Testing (UT) is a reliable, versatile and safe method for Non-Destructive-Testing (NDT). Ultrasonic waves are sound waves with frequencies above the upper limit of human hearing (above 20 kHz, or 20,000 Hz). Sound waves are mechanical waves that travel in a straight line and require a medium through which to travel. The propagation and attenuation of sound waves depend on the structure of the medium down to an atomic level; therefore, ultrasound is a useful method of studying a material’s structure and the processes occurring within it. 

Whilst the highest frequency a human can hear is around 20,000 Hz, Our Portalevel® units are high-frequency ultrasound transmitters that use sound at a frequency of 1,000,000 Hz or 1 MHz. To do this, the main unit sends a strong electrical signal to the sensor (a piezoelectric crystal), which then emits a high energy pulse of ultrasound into the fire cylinder wall through what is known as the reverse piezoelectric effect.  

The term ‘piezoelectricity’ has its roots in the Greek word ‘piezein’ (to press) and was discovered in 1880 by Pierre and Paul-Jacques Curie. Piezoelectricity is the appearance of an electrical potential across a crystal when it is subjected to mechanical stress and is a reversible effect. A crystal that exhibits this effect by becoming charged when it is compressed or distorted is a piezoelectric crystal. Similarly, passing electricity through a piezoelectric crystal causes the crystal to vibrate back and forth (producing ultrasound); this is the reverse piezoelectric effect. 

The ultrasound that is produced is conducted through the solid walls of the container and then interacts with the contents (CO2, FM™-200, NOVEC™1230, etc.). After the sensor, also known as an ultrasound transducer, stops emitting ultrasound, it starts listening for the returning echoes of the signal. It sends these signals back to the main electronic unit, which then analyses the returning signal in comparison to the calibration signal taken for each cylinder. This allows Coltraco’s range of liquid level indicators to detect the presence or absence of liquid behind the area of the container wall where the sensor is placed without disturbing the contents.  

Ultrasound interacts differently depending on the transducer and crystal. The diagram on the left (above) shows bulk waves in gas travelling radially inwards from the walls of a fire cylinder. Displacement is in the direction of propagation. The diagram on the right represents shear waves propagating radially over the surface of the cylinder from the point of the transducer contact. Displacement, in this case, is perpendicular to the direction of propagation. This information along with advanced signal analysis and calibration algorithms provides us with a clear picture of the contents inside the cylinder and allows us to differentiate between the liquid and gas section.

History of Ultrasonic Level Measurement

Coltraco was founded in 1987 by father and son, Mr E C Hunter and Mr Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE (current chairman). Mr E C Hunter served in the Royal Navy’s Submarine service for 27 years, as well as 5 years spent working for the Admiralty Research Laboratories, where he specialised in SONAR (SOund-Navigation And Ranging) technologies. His experiences allowed him to notice the need for a portable ultrasonic technology, which would enable the user to measure and monitor the contents of marine CO2 fire suppression systems. Technology at the time typically involved the weighing of gas cylinders or using radioactive sources, neither being convenient nor safe to use. In 1987 Mr E C Hunter was able to release the ‘world’s first dedicated marine portable liquid level indicator.’ It was then possible for users to find the liquid level within liquified gas bottles, without either disrupting the system or using cumbersome techniques.

Throughout the years and decades, Coltraco Ultrasonics have continued to improve the Portalevel system, while expanding into the development of more products and systems; a large number of these use ultrasound to either test the integrity of a system or to measure the contents within. The Portalevel is used mainly in the Fire and Safety industry but is now used extensively in over 25 market sectors. The development of an ultrasonic liquid level indicator unit allowed for the replacement of old methods, since radioactive liquid level devices have become more and more expensive, and weighing heavy fire suppression cylinders requires a lot of time and is labour intensive. 

What does the Portalevel® marine range do?

The Portalevel® marine range operates using the same principle as the Portalevel® fire cylinder range, however, is designed specifically with the marine sector in mind. Each unit is portable and comes with an extension rod used for inspecting cylinders in banked rows. Using this technology enables ship crew and marine operators to non-invasively locate the liquid level inside any single skinned cylinder welded or seamless marine fire suppression cylinder. Each Portalevel® unit is capable of detecting the presence of liquid externally; from water and liquid pressurised gases to clean agents and halons. The Portalevel® range can be used on an extensive variety of container types, composed of different materials, shapes and sizes, but are typically used on steel high-pressure compressed gas cylinders.

Our technology is suitable for many applications, but it is most widely used as a replacement to both weighing fire suppression cylinders during installation and servicing, or replacement for the fitting of internal and invasive liquid level ‘float’ devices. Once the liquid level height inside a container has been located, the agent weight can be determined using the Portasteele®Calculator, which is designed to quickly convert liquid height to weight accounting for the cylinder size, agent type and temperature (see below).

Inspections can take a little as 30 seconds for each bottle and displays easy to understand results indicating the presence of liquid or gas. This ultrasonic level sensing technology is suitable for other liquid level monitoring applications, including LPG gas level indication and in non-fire suppression containers such as water level measurements. Please, visit our case studies page or contact us to find out more.

Converting Liquid Level to Weight

Monitoring the liquid level in fire cylinders is a vital aspect of any fire suppression system maintenance schedule, however, understanding how the liquid level relates to the fill weight of the cylinder is equally important. Coltraco Ultrasonics offer, in conjunction with the Portalevel® range, the world’s first liquid level to agent mass calculator.

The Portasteele® Calculator calculates the agent weight of a fire suppression cylinder. It does this by using the liquid level determined by our Portalevel® range or inversely by using the required fill level for a certain weight of suppression agent. The Portasteele® Calculator is sold as a stand-alone unit on a 7’’ hand-held tablet to be used in conjunction with our Portalevel® range.

Choose the Portalevel® MAX MARINE PLUS

Due to the quicker and easier method of servicing a cylinder with this device, and results which can be easily repeated for reliability and accuracy, Portalevel® MAX Marine PLUS allows vessels to be in full compliance with the FSS code in-between the annual certification intervals because the crew will be happy to conduct contents checking themselves at sea.

Portalevel® MAX Marine PLUS ensures inadequately filled cylinders can be easily and safely detected, minimising risk to the crew, asset and vessel in the event of a fire, by ensuring the integrity of the fire suppression system

Decreasing the time to regularly and effectively test cylinder agent weights, will reduce the inconvenience and costly man hours required for testing. The reduction of man hours reduces the cost in the long term to a vessel operation, even compared to a low-rate marine servicing company. As such, there is more time to perform more frequent checks without the dangers of physically weighing cylinders, such as accidental explosive discharge, strain-related injuries to crew and fire danger to a vessel during testing because the system is disarmed.

Marine Fire Suppression System Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common fire suppression system?

The most common fire suppression system is the automatic sprinkler system. Sprinkler systems are widely used in various settings, including commercial buildings, residential complexes, and industrial facilities. They are designed to automatically release water onto a fire when triggered by heat, effectively suppressing or extinguishing the fire and limiting its spread.

What are the fire fighting systems on ships?

Fire fighting systems on ships typically include a range of equipment and systems to combat fires at sea. These may include fire pumps, fire hoses, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, fixed firefighting systems (such as CO2 or foam systems for engine rooms), and portable firefighting equipment. These systems are crucial for ensuring the safety of the vessel, crew, and cargo in case of a fire emergency.

What are the 5 types of special suppression systems?

The five types of special suppression systems commonly used are:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) suppression systems
  • Foam suppression systems
  • Dry chemical suppression systems
  • Water mist suppression systems
  • Clean agent suppression systems (such as FM-200 or Novec 1230)

Each type of suppression system has its specific applications and effectiveness in suppressing fires based on the type of fuel involved and the specific requirements of the protected area.

What is the difference between fire fighting system and fire suppression system?

The primary difference between a fire fighting system and a fire suppression system lies in their approach to combating fires. A fire fighting system typically refers to the equipment and systems used to actively fight fires, such as fire pumps, hoses, and firefighting agents like water or foam. On the other hand, a fire suppression system is designed to automatically suppress or extinguish fires through fixed systems, such as sprinklers, gas-based suppression systems, or chemical agents.

What is the difference between a wet and dry fire suppression system?

The difference between a wet and dry fire suppression system lies in the type of agent used for suppression. In a wet fire suppression system, water is the primary extinguishing agent. It is stored in pipes and released when triggered by heat or a fire alarm. In contrast, a dry fire suppression system utilizes substances other than water, such as gases (CO2, FM-200) or dry chemical agents (powder), to suppress fires. These agents work by displacing oxygen or chemically inhibiting the combustion process.

What is the British standard for suppression systems?

The British standard for suppression systems is known as BS 5306. This standard provides guidance on the design, installation, commissioning, and maintenance of fire extinguishing systems, including various types of suppression systems. It covers specific aspects such as system components, system design considerations, and recommended maintenance practices to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of the suppression systems.

What is the difference between L1, L2, and L3 fire alarm systems?

L1, L2, and L3 are different levels or categories of fire alarm systems commonly used in building design and fire safety regulations. The differences between them lie in the extent of coverage and complexity of the system. L1 fire alarm systems provide the highest level of coverage, including the whole building and all areas, with multiple detectors and alarms. L2 systems cover selected areas, while L3 systems provide coverage in specific parts or compartments of a building.

What is the difference between a water pump and a fire fighting pump?

The main difference between a water pump and a fire fighting pump lies in their intended purpose and design. A water pump is a general-purpose pump used for various applications, such as moving water from one location to another for irrigation or domestic use. A fire fighting pump, however, is specifically designed for fire suppression and is capable of delivering high-pressure water flow to extinguish fires effectively. Fire fighting pumps are built to meet specific standards and requirements, including the ability to generate sufficient pressure and volume of water for firefighting purposes.

What gas is used in fire suppression systems?

Various gases are used in fire suppression systems, depending on the specific application and the type of fire being suppressed. Some commonly used gases include:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): It is effective for suppressing fires by displacing oxygen, thus reducing the fire’s ability to sustain combustion.
  • FM-200: A clean agent gas that extinguishes fires by removing heat from the fire triangle.
  • Novec 1230: Another clean agent gas that works by removing heat and interrupting the fire chain reaction.
  • Inert gases (such as Argon, Nitrogen, and Inergen): These gases reduce oxygen levels in enclosed spaces, inhibiting the combustion process.

The selection of the appropriate gas depends on factors such as the type of fire hazard, the protected area’s size, and any environmental considerations.

Are sprinklers considered fire suppression?

Yes, sprinklers are considered a form of fire suppression. Automatic sprinkler systems are commonly used as a primary fire suppression method in buildings and other structures. Sprinklers are designed to detect heat from a fire and automatically release water, suppressing or extinguishing the fire before it spreads. They are highly effective in controlling fires, preventing their rapid escalation, and providing additional time for evacuation and firefighting efforts.