Simple Boat Fire Safety Tips

Regularly Inspect Fire Extinguishers, Courtesy of USCG

Courtsey of USCG

According to the USCG, in 2009, there were 5 deaths, approx. 130 injuries and over $12,557,513 in damages from boat related fires in the United States. Fires can spread rapidly on a vessel and it is always best to be prepared for any fire-related situation. Here are some safety tips from the Seattle Fire Department:

  • Use Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) marine-approved cord sets and connections. Do no hook up if you see burn marks or your cord set will not firmly connect.
  • Routinely replace cord sets. Worn or overloaded cord sets and damaged shore power connections are a common cause of fires.
  • Regularly inspect electrical and fuel systems. Have a professional upgrade the wiring to maintain the needs of your navigational equipment and other appliances.
  • Never leave operating electrical equipment, including heaters, unattended. When leaving your boat for any reason, turn portable heaters off.
  • Smoke alarms are important life-saving devices and should be installed in your boat.
  • Plan your escape. Having an escape plan can save your life in an emergency.
  • Have a U.S.C.G. approved fire extinguisher¬†onboard and know how to use it. Fire extinguishers should be mounted near an exit so you are moving toward an exit as you access the extinguisher.
  • Do your part to keep the dock clean and clear. Don’t leave engine parts, tools or other equipment on the dock.
  • Properly dispose of oily rags in metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Leaving oily rags wrapped up in a grocery sack is not safe. The chemicals will begin to breakdown the rags, causing heat and possibly a fire.
  • Boat owners must take responsibility for preventing fires on their boats and in the marina. The most common causes of boat fires are: electrical malfunctions, unattended portable heaters and poor housekeeping.

2 thoughts on “Simple Boat Fire Safety Tips

  1. The Coast Guard statistics quoted here represent primarily open water fire incidents. Marina fires are not typically recorded in the Coast Guard Boating Safety Statistics and therefore these statistics are far from complete. We have more property damage, injury and death due to fire than is reported.

    Although smoke alarms have been a requirement in RVs since 1982, the boating industry still does not require these most basic of fire safety devices.

    The Coast Guard requirements for fire extinguishers is also inadequate. A 65 foot boat with a fixed engine room fire supression system is required to have only two, 2 lb Type B extinguishers. This provides a total of less than 20 seconds of extinguishing capacity for B type (liquids) fires only. There is no extinguishing agent required by the Coast Guard for electrical fires which according to Boat US represent 55% of all boat fires.

    Engine room fixed fire extinguishing systems are not as reliable as expected. There are a number of installations where the system is mounted too low in the engine room or too close to natural and mechanical ventilation. I have photos of boats that were total losses and the big red bottle did not activate.

    We are not as safe from fire as one would expect while enjoying our boats.

    John McDevitt
    Marine Fire Protection and Safety

    1. Once again, I agree with Captain McDevitt. Thank you for taking the time to write.

      USCG requirements are only a minimum requirement. In the reality that fighting a fire aboard a vessel can be, the minimum will likely be inadequate – and still, people do not carry even the minimum.

      I will offer my personal insight as to what I had aboard my own Ingrid 38. By the ‘rule’, I was required to carry: At least two B-I OR one B-II type approved hand portable fire extinguisher.

      Here is what my vessel had
      1 x Halon automatic in the engine compartment designed for 200% volume. When the engine is running and there is a fire, it is still moving lots of air through the compartment.
      1 x 20# CO2 in the main salon under the table
      3 x 1A10BC (3.8lbs of agent) in the V-berth, navigation station and galley; all visable. I choose to use 1A10BC for this application because of the risk of electrical fire.

      A 1-B fire extinguisher means it has a UL rating of 1-B. The unit will extinguish a 1 sq. ft. flammable liquid fire by a novice user. There is no issue exceeding what the USCG requires!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>