Be prepared

Have a written plan about what you're going to do if fire breaks out. It'll help you think through the issues you need to consider and prepare for.

  • Make sure fire-fighting equipment is serviced regularly.
  • Read the instructions on how to use the equipment.
  • Make sure fire-fighting equipment is stowed where it can be grabbed in a hurry, that crew know where it is and how to use it, that fuel is stored in appropriate areas, and that good house-keeping is maintained.
  • Plan to assign two crew to tackle the fire so they can back each other up without getting in each others way. Consider having other crew prepare to abandon ship, and others to manoeuvre the vessel to facilitate fire-fighting and safety.
  • Prior to going to sea, brief the crew about safe practices, location and use of fire-fighting equipment, and their roles if fire breaks out.
  • At sea, have a fire drill.


  • Keep flammable material (oily rags, paper) away from engines, galley areas and other ignition sources. Don't smoke in bunks.
  • Check shaft bearings, engine belts, the electrical switchboard and other electrical and mechanical components to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Make sure fuses and wiring are the correct size to prevent over-heating and short circuits.
  • Minimise the flammable materials, including fuels carried aboard.
  • Make sure gas lines and regulators are in good condition and have a current compliance certificate. Is the gas shut-off easy to access? Do all crew know where it is?
  • Is the metho stove always out when re-fuelling? Take precautions whenever re-fuelling the vessel with petrol and diesel.
    • mobile phones off
    • no smoking
    • earth the nozzle/filler
    • earth the fuel tank
    • isolate power

    Minimise risk while at sea

    • Turn off gas when not in use
    • Vent battery boxes
    • Use correct fuses and wiring
    • Keep electrical circuit board and circuits dry
    • Keep gas bottles and outboard fuel containers outside, with fumes draining over the side
    • Don't re-fuel stoves while in use. Keep flammables away from the galley and engine box

    If fire breaks out

    • If you spot a fire on board, immediately raise the alarm amongst the entire crew.
    • The helmsman should turn the boat to minimise wind across deck and slow fire spread.
    • If possible, manoeuvre to keep flame and smoke over the side, rather than in the boat. Opening hatches before the fire is knocked down may increase fire intensity. On the other hand, it may be necessary to open hatches to improve visibility below and provide fresh air for any crew tackling the fire. Be prepared to manoeuvre the boat and open/close hatches as necessary to assist fire-fighters.
    • Gather your fire-fighting resources, and make sure they are put into the hands of trained crew who are appropriately dressed. No synthetic clothing.
    • Tackle the fire, extinguishing it as quickly as possible. Remember to turn the gas off as soon as possible if it's on - assign a member of the crew to do this immediately.
    • Make sure all signs of fire are eliminated. Look in lockers, under cushions, behind lining, in wiring conduits etc if necessary.
    • Evaluate damage:
      • is anyone injured (burns, smoke inhalation)?
      • what's been lost (essential gear, communications, fire-fighting equipment)?
      • can we continue safely, or should we immediately return to port?

      If vessel endangered

      During the fire, the skipper needs to continue to evaluate if there's a possibility that the vessel is in danger of burning out of control and eventually sinking. If burning freely, the crew will need to abandon the vessel well before it sinks. Follow an 'abandon-ship' procedure:

      • Raise the alarm via a standard mayday call on the radio.
      • If you have one, prepare the life-raft and survival equipment.
      • Ensure crew don lifejackets, and leave the vessel before they are endangered by the fire, and before the vessel sinks.
      • Get well clear (the gas cylinder may explode violently before the vessel sinks).

      Safety Tips

      • Most flammable vapours (eg LPG, petrol) are heavier than air and accumulate in the lower parts of a vessel, including the bilge. If there's a leak, immediately eliminate all ignition sources and ventilate the boat to clear all traces of flammable vapours. Consider installing gas detectors.
      • Install a smoke alarm on vessels where people sleep. Consider an arrangement for temporary installation while the vessel is being used.

      Safety equipment

      Safety equipment you should consider includes fire extinguishers, a fire blanket and a strong bucket.

      • Mounting:
        Secure extinguishers and fire blankets in a visible position close to, but not on top of, the areas they are designed to protect. For example, the extinguisher for the galley should not be mounted on a bulkhead too close to the stove; similarly with fuse boards and engine compartments. If a fire occurs the extinguisher may be unreachable.
      • Fire extinguishers:
        Extinguishers recommended for boats are of the dry chemical powder type, with a minimum rating of 10BE. Every month, check the pressure gauge for correct pressure, and turn the extinguisher upside down and shake it vigourously to loosen the powder. Have the extinguisher serviced every 6 months, or immediately after every use.
        Fire extinguishers are designed for small fires. Familiarise yourself with the use of fire extinguishers before any fire occurs.
        Read the instructions.
        If a fire occurs the extinguishers must be applied immediately. If you are delayed by looking for an extinguisher, reading the instructions or unwrapping it, the fire may grow too large for the extinguisher to extinguish
      • Fire blankets:
        A fire blanket is ideal for stove-top fires and can be used to wrap around people if their clothes catch fire. A fire blanket measuring one metre by one metre will be adequate in most circumstances.