Besides sinking, the greatest regular threat to any vessel is fire. A fire prevention mindset is essential on a boat. Once started a small fire can very quickly become a big one. Do mental practice of these procedures.


  1. Always keep the wall switch off when the cooker is not in use
  2. Always check all burners are off before turning one on to light the stove
  3. Keep Butane tanks in cockpit locker that vents overboard
  4. Cook remains in/near galley whenever stove is on, especially near if it's on low heat
  5. Diesel jerry cans are kept tied on the deck
  6. Ensure the petrol tank on the outboard is fully closed before storing it in the locker
  7. Check smoke alarm is functioning OK once a month
  8. Oily cloths (or those used with flammable liquids, polishes, paints, etc) should be discarded after use–never kept them in an airtight bag/container. To keep for continued use another day, put them in an open bucket on the deck or in the cockpit.
  9. Close the hatches and portholes on the windward side of the boat when refuelling
  10. No smoking below decks or near the outboard motor or the jerry cans
  11. Service fire extinguishers regularly
  12. During routine maintenance, inspect the condition of all wiring running through the place where you are working
  13. Acquaint everyone on board with: (i) location of all 4 ABC fire extinguishers and the fire blanket; (ii) the three categories of fire (A=wood, paper, plastic, cloth, rubber; B=flammable liquids, grease, paint; C=electrical, wiring, fuses, etc.); and (iii) how to fight a fire


  1. If there's an explosion, prepare to abandon ship. If time permits, deploy the liferaft, otherwise grab life jackets and jump overboard.
  2. If underway, helmsman turns and holds boat with head into the wind.
  3. The first thing to do is to fight the fire; do not waste time transmitting May Day or Pan Pan unless you are abandoning ship.
  4. For galley fires, immediately turn off the butane switch, then:
    • Fire in a pan - put a lid on it
    • Fire in the oven - close the door
    • Fire on the stove/surrounds - smother with the fire blanket which is kept readily available near the galley
    • Do not use water on grease fires
    • If necessary, use a fire extinguisher (see below)
  5. Engine fires:
    • Shut off the engine and disconnect the batteries
    • Carefully lift the top cover under the companionway stairs, sufficiently to deploy fire extinguishers through it onto the engine
    • Transmit May-Day or Pan-Pan if appropriate
    • All crew put on life jackets and prepare to launch life raft
  6. Fire below decks.
    • If it appears to be a type B (fuel) or C fire (electrical) turn off all electrical switches, and disconnect the batteries. Use fire extinguishers (see below) to extinguish the fire and/or smother the fire with the fire blanket.
    • If it seems to be a type A fire (ordinary combustibles) use fire extinguishers (see below) and/or throw bowls or buckets of water on it, and/or smother with fire blanket or wet towels. If it's behind a cupboard door or locker hatch, feel the exterior. If too hot to touch, open very slowly and immediately deploy fire extinguishers into the area.
    • If you can't tell whether it's type A or type C, assume it's electrical and turn off all switches and disconnect the batteries.
    • DO NOT use water on an electrical fire or one involving flammable liquids
    • Close all hatches and portholes, but leave escape hatches loose
  7. Use a fire extinguisher as follows:
    • The goal is to contain the fire, gradually reduce its area, and then smother it.
    • Remove the extinguisher from its bracket, pull the pin out of the extinguisher, and hold the unit upright. Stand about 6' back from the flames.
    • Squeeze the lever and aim at base of flames, working around the edges. Back the fire into a corner if you can. Then try to smother it. The extinguisher will only go for about 30 seconds before it is spent. Get other crew to bring remaining fire extinguishers, water buckets if appropriate, and the fire blanket.
    • If you can't contain it, get out and abandon ship.


  1. Fires that have been extinguished by smothering must be cooled so they don't smoulder and relight. They can be cooled with water, baking soda, or wet towels. The area around the fire must be cooled, as well as the location that was burning. Air into the burnt area should be reduced to a minimum concomitant with keeping a watchful eye on it for several hours.
  2. Next, clean up and repair, rewire, etc.
  3. Go to school on the fire, and take some lessons learned.

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This page was last modified on: January 31, 2013

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