Boat Fire Prevention and What to do in case of Fire

Aug 2, 2022

Boat fires are serious, and here’s how to maximize your safety. We discuss the common causes of boat fires, how to prevent them, and what action to take if a boat fire breaks out.

What are the common causes of Boat Fires?

  • Electrical fires
  • Explosive gas or propane vapors
  • Overheated engine
  • Unattended cooking
  • Smoking below deck
white boat on fire in lake

Prevent boat fires by following some simple guidelines. Note that the most common causes are electrical fires, and fuel-related fires.

Boat Fire Prevention- Engine and Bilge

Fact: Most boat fires are electrical fires. Chaffed wires are the number one issue. This is why visual inspections are so important, and fuse protection is necessary.

It is also important that electrical and engine components are installed by a competent technician and that devices are marine rated. For instance, a bilge pump should be an approved ignition-protected model to prevent the ignition of vapors in the low-lying bilge.

Fires on boats are commonly caused by combustible fuel vapors. This is true, especially after refueling. Be careful not to spill fuel. It is imperative to run your boat blower for the recommended 4-6 minutes before starting your engine and after refueling. Remove pent-up fumes, and bring in the fresh air.

It is important to open your engine cover when first starting your engine for three reasons. One is that you let in fresh, clean air by opening your engine cover. Secondly, it is an opportunity to use your sense of smell to notice if there is an out-of-the-ordinary amount of fuel smell.

Thirdly, while your engine cover is open, take a visual scan of your engine. Look for any signs of leaked fuel. Inspect the fuel lines for integrity. Look at your drive belts for wear, and inspect that all wiring is secure, not chafed, and free of corrosion.

Keep the bilge clean. If there is a fuel leak or spilled fuel, it can puddle in the bilge, and the heavier-than-air vapors collect in the lowest areas of the boat. A clean bilge can give you an early warning of a fuel leak issue.

gasoline and propane leak boat on fire

Use your nose to alert you to a gasoline or propane leak. These explosive fumes accumulate in the lowest areas like the bilge or engine compartments. Visually inspect wiring, fuel hoses, and propane connections.

Boat Fire Prevention- Cabin

Smoke alarms in the cabin are an essential component of a timely response to a fire. Install the type meant for RVs instead of home units because they are designed for rougher service in the elements. A smoke detector gives you a jump on response time, which can be the difference between putting out the fire with an extinguisher and a completely devastating fire.

Cabin fires can be caused by a propane leak. Good prevention is always turning the gas off at the bottle or main when appliances are not in use. Inspect gas lines for degradation and check all connections are tight and secure.

Never leave cooking in the galley unattended. A forgotten pan with oily food can cause flames in short order.

It is advised not to smoke below deck. Additionally, all upholstery, cushions, and fabrics should be fire retardant materials.

What to do in Case of a Boat Fire

First, it is best to have rehearsed your plan in case of a fire. In the event of a fire breaking out, you’ll want to rely on automatic responses that you’ve practiced. Know the locations of all fire extinguishers on board, and ideally, have more than one on board. Larger boats should have them positioned throughout the craft, and the crew should know the location of each one.

If a fire breaks out, get all people non-essential to fighting the fire away from the fire, and everyone needs to put on a life jacket. If the fire is in the engine compartment, open the engine hatch only enough to get the nozzle of the fire extinguisher in and use a sweeping motion. Avoid fully opening the engine hatch, which would feed the fire with fresh air.

Turn off the electrical main. Burnt or shorted-out wires can re-ignite the fire.

If offshore, do your best to contain the fire on your own. Use the fire extinguisher(s) using the acronym PASS. That means 1) Pull the pin, 2) Aim toward the base of the fire, 3) Squeeze the handle to spray 4) Sweep side to side. A second fire extinguisher can prove to be very handy if you misuse the first one or the fire re-ignites. 

Have someone radio or call for help. Try to signal other boats for assistance or rescue. Keep maximum distance between passengers and the fire. Prepare a dinghy or life raft if available. Abandon the boat only as a last resort. 

If in a marina, in addition, to immediately attempt to put down the fire yourself, alert surrounding boats, and summon help from staff.

blue boat in water caught on fire

All boats should have at least two fire extinguishers. Know where they are. Larger boats need multiple fire extinguishers located throughout the craft.

The key to not having to respond to a boat fire is prevention. Here’s a summary:

  • Electrical fires are the most common causes of boat fires. Always use ignition-protected components and engine parts specific for marine use. Have proper fuse and breaker protection. Use certified professionals for electrical installations. Inspect electrical harnesses closely for chafed, frayed, or wires lacking integrity.
  • Fuel fires are also a common cause of boat fires. Avoid spilling fuel. Use your nose to alert you of a leak. Vapors will collect in the bilge and low-lying engine compartments. Keep a clean bilge so you get an early visual warning of a fuel leak.
  • Maintain your engine so you’ll be less likely to overheat.
  • Do not leave cooking unattended.
  • Turn off your propane at the bottle or main when it’s not in use.
  • Smoke detectors rated for RV use are a great safety upgrade in sleeping areas. Early warning is key to safety.
  • Don’t smoke below deck.

If you follow these guidelines, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve taken steps to prevent a devastating fire and have taken care to protect your friends, family, fellow boaters, and your investment.

Another boat fire incident in GA – Lake Lanier boat fire leaves 2 individuals injured, officials say

The Factory Certified Technicians at Lakeside Marine can assist in professional electrical installations of all kinds. They can also assess your boat so you can be sure it has fuse protection, the correct wire size is used, and the correct components have been installed to meet marine safety standards. Call Lakeside Marine at (678) 322- 7877 or visit www.lakesidemarine.com.

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