Attempting to put out a fire incorrectly can lead to mass trauma and disasters. Mistakes like using the wrong fire extinguishers can cause an explosion, and simple tricks like steering the vessel so the wind blows the fire away from the fuel compartment might save someone’s life.
So, what should you do if a fire breaks out in the front of your boat? You should make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket. If you still have control of the wheel, quickly move the boat’s front in the same direction as the wind before turning off the engine, fuel supply, and electrical system.
After that, tackle the fire with the appropriate practices and only if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, call for emergency help.
Table of Contents
What to Do When a Fire Erupts in the Front of Your Boat
1. Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket
Ensure all passengers are aware of the situation and are wearing life jackets. Prepare to abandon the ship if required.
You should put on a life jacket even when the fire is small. Experienced boaters tend to underestimate the seriousness of an incident. But you never know what’s going to happen.
2. Steer the boat following the wind direction
Quickly identify the wind direction and steer the front of the boat in the same direction. The wind will keep the fire in the front area and blow it away from the rest of the boat.
3. Turn off the engine, fuel supply, and power system
The flames will get worse when contact with the engine, fuel, or live wires. You should make sure the engine is not running and fueling, and the electrical system is off. If your boat has a fuel valve, close it tightly.
You should assign one to two crew members to carry out step one, two, and three, and the others should focus on figuring out the most effective way to stop the fire.
4. Put out the fire
Only tackle the flames when it is safe to do so. If the fire spreads rapidly, reaching the fuel compartment, and smoke fills the boat, you must evacuate and call for emergency help.
When seeing your boat on fire, your first instinct might be to grab the fire extinguisher or a water bucket. But those are not always the most efficient ways. What if you don’t have access to a fire extinguisher? There are other options to put out a fire, and the best option is the one that takes the least time to execute.
A fire is a combination of fuel, heat, and oxygen. When one of the elements is absent, the fire extinguishes. You need to figure out the fastest way to eliminate at least one element. Refer to this video for more fire chemistry explanations:
Below are three ways to put out a fire on a boat:
- Choke the fire: If the fire happens in an enclosed space, close off all windows and doors to keep oxygen out of the area. Doing so will soon stop the fire. Other things you can use to smother a fire include sand, a metal lid, or a cookie sheet.
- Use water: Water is highly effective to put out fires caused by wood, paper, trash, plastics, and fabric. Because you are surrounded by water, this is the quickest way. But never use water on gasoline, oil, grease, or electrical fires. You must also drain the remaining water after the fire to maintain the boat’s stability.
- Use a fire extinguisher: A fire extinguisher is your best bet. Grab it and determine the source of the fire. Then, pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the source, squeeze the handle, and sweep. You need to aim the extinguisher at the base of the flames, spraying randomly is only a waste of time.
5. Call for emergency help
If the flames continue to spread despite your efforts, summon help from nearby boats and the U.S. Coast Guard via your VFH radio, and start an evacuation plan.
Make an emergency call to the Coast Guard over Channel 16, and give your exact location (use landmarks if you are not sure) and the number of people on board.
If a life raft is available, land it on water, and evacuate. Do not hesitate. When the fire spreads, things get out of control in no time.
6. Beware of smoke
Do you know the fire itself is not as dangerous as the smoke it releases? Smoke carries fatal substances and is the major cause of fire-related deaths. When fire breaks out in the front of your boat, gather your guests in the rear parts, as far away from smoke as possible.
If you or your guests have asthma, COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant. Make sure to get medical help after escaping the fire.
Top Four Mistakes to Avoid
1. Set sail without a fire action plan
Without a plan, you won’t know what to do when incidents happen. So, make a fire action plan following our guide and share it with your crew.
You should store one to two fire extinguishers. Place them where fires tend to occur (e.g., cooking areas, fuel compartments, engine). They should also be easy to see and grab.
Don’t forget to keep enough life jackets for everyone on the boat.
2. Underestimate the size of the fire
It takes 30 seconds for a manageable flame to become fatal. So, don’t hesitate to pull the pin of the fire extinguisher despite how small the fire seems.
3. Use incorrect extinguishing methods
As mentioned above, don’t use water to put out gasoline, oil, grease, or electrical fires. The water will become superheated and erupt. It is similar to dropping water into a frying pan filled with oil. We all know the consequences.
Many boaters also make the mistake of using inappropriate extinguisher types. In the US, there are five primary extinguisher classes, each one puts out different fire hazards. Check out the graphic below.
4. Forget to turn off the engine
You might get terrified and focus solely on figuring out how to stop the fire. But you must stay calm and stick with the procedure. If the flame catches a running engine, it will burst.
In conclusion, carry out the following steps if a fire breaks out in the front of your boat:
- Step 1. Make sure everyone onboard wears a life jacket.
- Step 2. Steer the vessel’s front in the same direction as the wind.
- Step 3. Turn off the engine, fuel supply, and electrical system.
- Step 4. Put out the fire with appropriate practices.
- Step 5. Call for emergency help.
- Step 6. Beware of smoke.
Each fire hazard is different. So, adjust the procedure to work best with your situation. The point is to put out the fire safely and quickly and minimize the damage.
We’re delighted you researched this topic to prepare yourself before standing behind the wheel. Feel free to save this article and share it with your crew. The marine world needs more responsible boaters like you.
Working to create content for Marine Talk has always been a fascinating experience. I get to travel, absorb knowledge about boating, and tackle all the issues when we sail into freedom!