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What Should You Do Immediately if a Boat Motor Catches Fire?

Fact checked by William Hart

what should you do immediately if a boat motor catches fire

We all know that fire is deadly. But unlike a car fire, in which you are on land and have a high chance of getting help and escaping, if your boat motor catches fire, you are on your own. Even when you abandon the boat and jump into the water, you can be very far away from the shore. So, what should you do immediately if a boat motor catches fire?

Most importantly, you must turn off the engine and fuel supply. Then, quench the fire with a Class B or C fire extinguisher. If possible, use the paddles to turn the boat’s front into the wind to keep the fire away from the rest of the vessel.

But what if you don’t have access to a fire extinguisher? Read on to find out.

Table of Contents

Things You Should Do Immediately if a Boat Motor Catches Fire


1. Turn off the engine and fuel supply

It’s detrimental when fuel pumps to the burning engine. When contacting gasoline, flames will burst and spread rapidly. You should stop the boat, turn off the engine, and cut the fuel supply if the boat is moving.

2. Turn the front of the boat into the wind

If possible, use paddles to turn the bow into the wind, letting the wind blow against the boat. This keeps the fire from spreading to other parts of the vessel and prevent smoke from suffocating you and the passengers.

You should assign a person to do this while you extinguish the fire. If you are boating alone, only carry out this step if it is easy to do so. Otherwise, skip it and grab the fire extinguisher.

3. Stamp out the fire

The law requires that small vessels have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher onboard. Bigger vessels from 26 to 40 feet in length must have at least two.

So, quickly grab the fire extinguisher, pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the source of the fire, and squeeze the handle. You should stand back at a safe distance to sweep, then move closer when the fire becomes weaker.

You can’t use water to put out a fire on a motor. The flame will flare up and spread more rapidly. Don’t use water if you suspect the fire started from an electrical fault. Because water is conductive, doing so might electrocute people onboard.

The extinguisher should stamp out the fire immediately and guarantee safety for you and the guests. But what if you don’t have access to a fire extinguisher or the one you have doesn’t work? Are there any other options?

What if You Don’t Have a Fire Extinguisher Onboard?

You can use a fire blanket or a similar heavy cover to smother the fire. You need to cover the fire entirely to block out oxygen. Without oxygen, the fire will stop. We recommend doing this only on a small fire. Remember that:

  • You must cover the flame, not throw a blanket into it.
  • The blanket must be bigger than the fire for this method to work.

If you can’t find a safe method to extinguish the fire, call for emergency help and evacuate the vessel.

Five Common Causes of Fire on Outboard Motors


1. Battery failure

Loose connections, surrounding heat, chafed cables, and shorted switches can all start a fire on your boat. If your outboard boat use batteries for power instead of an AC electrical system, inspect them at least twice per season.

If you disconnect the batteries for charging or winterization, take a picture of the configuration or mark the cables to ensure you’ll put them back correctly.

2. Stuck engine’s starter

Just like a car, a boat engine’s starter can get stuck. That is when you turn the ignition on, the engine cranks, but it doesn’t start and keeps cranking. Switching the key or pressing the button won’t turn it off. This problem is usually due to an ignition circuit breaker failure. When a starter is stuck at starting, it overheats and causes an electrical fire in the engine.

You can prevent this with a battery switch. Watch the video below for how a small switch can save you a call to emergency service:

3. Leaky lines

A droplet of fuel leak can burst into flame when meeting a cigarette. So, regularly check for signs of leaks and don’t neglect if you sense a gasoline smell. You can rub the fuel lines with a cloth to inspect them. After pumping gas to the engine, always close the hose clamp tightly and replace it when it exhibits damage.

4. Incorrect charging

Never use non-marine or automotive chargers to charge your battery onboard. They lack safety properties and are not designed to function while floating. In an enclosed space or near the engine (where fuel fumes accumulate), the device can cause a fire. Overcharging can also lead to overheating and an eruption.

5. Improper storage

Finally, be aware of where you leave your boat on land. Never store your boat near heated objects in an enclosed space. It would be best if you also considered draining the fuel during winterization.


To conclude, if the motor on your boat catches fire, follow this procedure:

  • Turn off the engine and cut the fuel line.
  • If possible, move the boat’s bow into the wind.
  • Stamp out the fire using appropriate practices.

GEICO Marine Insurance reported that fire is the 5th most common cause of boat accidents. So, it’s crucial to know what should you do immediately if a boat motor catches fire. After reading this article, we’re confident that you can tackle the water safely and enjoy the best boat trips. Thank you for reading!

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