Fire Safety

There is still a possibility of catastrophic fire emergencies while boating, although boats are surrounded by water. Boat operators must ensure that they are prepared for a fire emergency by installing the appropriate fire safety equipment on board, taking precautions to prevent fire hazards, and being able to deal with the fire quickly and effectively if it happens.

Three major factors contribute to catastrophic fires while boating. These factors include the galley, a malfunctioning engine, and insufficient ventilation of an enclosed engine compartment. 

  • Galley Fires: A fire blanket is one of the most effective extinguishers for galley fires. Place the fire blanket within easy reach of the cooker and ensure that it is of the appropriate size. A fire blanket suffocates the fire by depriving it of oxygen.
  • Malfunction Engine Fires: Consider learning to tackle a fire without allowing air to enter the entire space. It is crucial to follow this step if your boat has an inboard engine. It is common for boaters to install an automatic extinguisher inside the engine compartment, while others install a small hole so that an extinguisher can be aimed inside. 
  • Flammable Liquids and Insufficient Ventilation: While boats are not intended to transport flammable liquids, inevitably, boaters will not carry them on board.

It is possible that a spare diesel may be carried for the main engine or that cleaning chemicals may be present. Flammable liquids should be stored in a well-ventilated area so that fires caused by these liquids can be prevented. Also, make sure their seals are appropriately secured. 

Since fire emergencies are inevitable on the boat despite being surrounded by water, boat operators should have fire safety equipment onboard, take measures to prevent fire hazards, and be prepared to deal with fires quickly and efficiently.

Being adequately prepared for an emergency can lessen the severity of a fire or explosion on your boat. Take the following guidelines to prepare:

  • On your boat, make sure that the required fire-fighting equipment is available.
  • Keep your fire-fighting equipment in good working order by maintaining it regularly.
  • Ensure that your fire extinguisher is in an easily accessible area.
  • Ensure that you and your passengers can respond quickly and efficiently in an emergency.

Fire suppression begins with understanding the fire triangle, which contains the three elements necessary to maintain a fire. This fire triangle includes heat, fuel, and oxygen. As all three components are necessary to ignite a fire, removing one of these will result in the fire being put out.

Fire triangle graphic

Boat operators must use the most appropriate extinguishing device to extinguish a fire. A fire can be suppressed quickly by using this device and will not cause any damage to passengers or the vessel. 

Boat Fire Extinguishers

It was mentioned in Section 2 of this course that personal watercraft and boats must be equipped with US Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguishers.  

The following types of fire extinguishers can be used for putting out different kinds of fires:

  • Class A – Combustible solids (wood, cloth, paper)
  • Class B – Flammable liquids (gas, oil, grease)
  • Class C – Electrical fire

Under US Coast Guard regulations, Class B-I or B-II extinguishers must be carried on board and equipped with mounting brackets. For marine use, any fire extinguisher selected by the operator must be certified and labeled by the US Coast Guard.

Proper Handling of a Fire Extinguisher

Whenever your boat is on fire, you should follow the P.A.S.S. method:

  1. Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher while breaking the seal. 
  2. Aim at the base while you approach the fire from a safe distance. 
  3. Squeeze the handles together to release the extinguishing agent. 
  4. Sweep the fire from left to right.

how to use a fire extinguisher chart

IMPORTANT: Operators should check all onboard extinguishers for the correct operating pressure before departing shore and ensure that all passengers know how to use them correctly and safely.

Why is Safe Fueling important? 

image showing a boat being fueled

Fueling boats safely is essential to avoid creating a fire hazard and damaging the environment. 

For the purpose of avoiding a fire hazard, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • Securely moor the boat to prevent spills.
  • Make sure all engines are turned off.
  • Bring the guests ashore.
  • Extinguish all open flames.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Ensure that all electrical switches and power supplies are turned off.
  • Avoid using electrical devices such as portable radios.
  • Close all windows, openings, hatches, and cabin doors.
  • Before refueling, remove the portable tanks from the vessel.
  • Ensure that the nozzle is in contact with the pipe.
  • Do not overfill the fuel tank since boaters must prevent fuel leaks and spills into the hull and water of their boats.
  • Dispose of the used cloth or towel in an approved container after wiping up spills.
  • After fueling, run the ventilation fan for a few minutes to disperse the fuel vapors.

The Use of Fuel-Burning Appliances

Gas vapors and leaks of propane or butane are heavier than oxygen and will quickly flow into the bottom of a vessel. There is a high level of explosive potential in these vapors.

On a watercraft, portable fuel-burning equipment or appliances should only be used in an open area or on an open deck that is well-ventilated and well secured to prevent movement. It is advisable to store fuel-burning appliances that are not in use in a well-ventilated area with no sources of heat or ignition. Most importantly, on board, all appliances consuming fuel should be designed specifically for marine use, and open flames or cooking systems should always be supervised.

Required Protection of the Ignition System

An engine that uses gasoline or propane must be equipped with ignition-protected electrical devices. As a result, these components are designed so that they will not ignite the vapors of gasoline or propane. During use, this type of protection prevents sparks from forming. The boater should consult a certified marine technician if they are unsure whether their boat is equipped with the appropriate ignition protection devices.



Take My Boat exam on a tablet