Fires Onboard

A boat on fire.

In the past year there have been two onboard fires in a nearby marina and just this morning there was a fire onboard a large vessel anchored in the Delaware River. In light of these events, I felt it might be a good time to remind boaters of fire prevention and fire fighting procedures.

One problem with a fire aboard a boat is that unlike a house where running across the street to escape the flames is an option, on a boat there’s no place to go but overboard. Unfortunately, this violates the second rule of boating: Keep the passengers in the boat.

Ironically, if enough of what the boat is floating on can be brought into the boat (i.e. water), the fire can usually be put out. This, however, violates the first law of boating: Keep the water outside the boat.

You should read and understand the instructions on your fire extinguisher(s). If a fire starts, you should be prepared and not hesitate. Grab the fire extinguisher, activate it, and direct it at the base of the flames using short bursts and sweeping it from side to side, covering the area of fire until extinguishment is expelled or fire is completely out.

Be familiar with the type of extinguisher you carry. Don’t wait until you have a fire before you read the operating label!

Remember P. A. S. S.

  • P ull pin
  • A im at base of flame
  • S queeze handle
  • S weep side to side

If underway and a fire starts, stop the boat and position it in such a manner that the fire is downwind. Order everyone to put on lifejackets. If possible try to turn off the fuel source to the fire. Grab the extinguishers and control the fire.

Check the gauge on your fire extinguisher regularly to ensure that it is charged properly.  Also, check the seals to make sure nothing has been tampered with. Remember, you should have the extinguisher recharged or replaced after you have used it.

PWC on fireAlthough fires in PWCs do not occur often, they are something you can help avoid and be prepared for. Leaking fuel lines, carburetors or gas tank may give combustion the necessary fuel to start a fire. This linked with an electrical short can cause damaging results. Proper and regular maintenance along with a pre-ride check will help you avoid a fire.
What if I can’t reach the extinguisher compartment?

Fire extinguisher compartment on a PWC.Water is an extinguisher and may be used to lower the temperature below fire point. This is fine if it is fiberglass, vinyl or other ordinary combustible. However, fuel and oil are lighter than water and will float on the surface and continue to burn.

Should your engine compartment be involved in fire you may be able to contain the fuels while overturning your craft and eliminating the oxygen supply allowing the fire to burn out quickly without causing major damage. Be cautious of fuel that may spread around you should you be in the water.

  • Check your craft before you ride
  • Carry an appropriate extinguisher
  • Be aware of how your extinguisher operates
  • Fire relies on heat, fuel and oxygen; remove one ingredient and the fire will go out
  • Think of your personal safety
  • Be cautious of re-ignition

Procedures for Fighting a Fire Onboard Larger Commercial Vessels

Signal: Continuous sounding of ship’s whistle & General Alarm for at least 10 seconds and then remember the word F I R E.

F ind the fire, the location, and its size

I nform the Captain immediately to:

  • Sound the general alarm to muster the crew and notify all hands
  • Make a distress call to Coast Guard and nearby vessels
  • Activate emergency firefighting equipment

R estrict the fire

  • Shut off air supply to the fire – close hatches, ports, etc.
  • De-energize electrical systems in affected space
  • Set fire boundaries to confine the fire
  • Shut off fuel supply and ventilation
  • Maneuver vessel to minimize the effect of wind on the fire
  • Prior to activating fixed extinguishing system, ensure that all personnel have been evacuated from the space

E xtinguish the fire

  • Determine class of fire, appropriate equipment, extinguishing agent and method of attack
  • Overhaul and set re-flash watch
  • Muster crew to account for all personnel
  • If unable to control fire, prepare to abandon the vessel

Warning: As soon as water is used for extinguishing, dewatering procedures should commence to avoid impairment of stability!

1 Comment

Filed under Boat Maintenance, Boat Operation, Boating Safety, The Boating Environment

One response to “Fires Onboard

  1. Wow! This is a great post! Thanks for sharing! By the way, can I share some other fire safety measures? Please visit my site about fire safety.

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