Most fires are preventable and this blog provides tips and advice on how to protect your boat and crew from fire, and what to do should a fire break out.
What to do if there’s a fire
If in doubt, don’t fight a fire yourself. Get out, stay out, call 999 for help and wait for the fire & rescue services.
• Do not enter a smoke filled space.
• If you are already in a smoke filled space, keep low down where the air is clearer.
• If you need to break glass to escape, use a blanket to prevent injury.
• Starve the fire of air. Don’t open engine hatches or doors unless you have to.
• If you are inland or moored near to land, move everybody off the boat and call 999 immediately.
Fires at Sea
• If you are off-shore move as far away from the fire as you can on deck. Get everybody into life jackets.
• Take a handheld VHF radio onto deck with you to call for help.
• Notify the Coastguard by radio, make a Mayday call and/ or display a distress signal
Below are some of the best ways to protect your boat in the event of an emergency
Alarms save lives
Fit alarms to stay safe
Boat fires often grow rapidly & spread quickly. Alarms can give a crew vital seconds to help them escape to safety.
• Optical sensor alarms with hush buttons and ‘sealed for life’ batteries are best for boats.
• See www.boatsafetyscheme. org/fire for more information on the alarm choices & a list of industry recommended models.
• Fit alarms in places you will hear them clearly if they go off.
• Consider installing linked alarms that will go off at the same time.
• Test the alarm when you board and at least monthly. Never disconnect it or remove working batteries.
Gas leak indicators
• Fit a bubble type gas leak indicator in the LPG cylinder locker.
• Push the gas leak indicator test button routinely to check for leaks in the gas system.
Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms
• Fit a CO alarm to alert you of any poisonous carbon monoxide.
Protecting the inside of your boat
Don’t smoke or use candles if you’re drowsy because of medications or alcohol.
• Keep cigarettes away from anything that could catch fire, such as curtains.
• Never smoke when refuelling or changing a gas cylinder.
• Dispose of smoking materials carefully – use a proper ashtray that will stay stable on the boat – make sure they’re out, right out!
• Take extra care if you smoke when you’re tired and never smoke in bed.
• Empty ashtrays regularly. A build-up of ash could catch fire.
• Try to choose furniture that carries the fire-resistant label.
• Keep fabrics and paper away from anything hot like hobs, light bulbs, stoves and their flue pipes.
• Watch out for domed- decklights, aka bullseyes, focussing light rays and causing heat damage or fires in strong sunlight.
• Candles have started fatal boat fires. Consider using LED alternatives for light or ambience.
• Pot-purri and oil-reed diffusers are far safer alternatives to scented candles.
• If you must use lit candles, ensure they’re in secure fire-proof holders and never leave them unattended
Fuel & power safety
Make sure you check and maintain your boat’s fuel, gas and electrical systems on a regular basis.
• Prevent petrol vapour from entering the boat by closing the doors, windows or hatches and closing the awning when refuelling.
• Refuel outboard engines and generators well away from the boat.
• Leaks, spills and vapour can ignite easily. Clean them up straight away and make sure filler caps are secure after refuelling.
• Only carry spare petrol if necessary and store it in a self-draining locker or on open deck.
• Petrol refuelling should only be supervised by someone familiar with both the boat and petrol vapour risks.
• Don’t let oil or debris build-up in the bilges.
• Inspect the lagging of engine and heater exhausts for damage or deterioration; and check nearby items for heat damage or charring.
• Check exhaust systems of inboard engines for leaks.
• Check for loose fuel joints, damaged fuel tanks or deteriorating hoses
Plan a safe escape
Make an emergency and escape plan with everyone aboard.
• Make sure people know how to close emergency valves and switches in case of fire. • You are more at risk from a fire when asleep, so check your boat before you go to bed. Make sure cooking and heating appliances are off and candles and cigarettes are fully extinguished.
• Keep a torch easily available to help you escape at night. Make sure you have spares and test them regularly. • Don’t go to sea without a VHF radio. Have a charged-up, handheld, waterproof one ready for use at any time. • Don’t rely on a mobile phone. There could be no signal and it may not be waterproof.
• Have enough life jackets for everyone on board, and keep them in good condition.
• Keep exits clear and keys to hand. Don’t lock or bolt doors and hatches from the outside.
• Track your location so you can tell the emergency services where you are if needed.
• Inland boaters keep aware of road access points to your bank side if you can.
• Consider having a ‘grabbag’ for removing vital possessions in an emergency
Fire blankets & portable extinguishers
Only consider using extinguishers to extinguish a small fire, or to aid a safe escape past flames.
Be prepared for a dry powder extinguisher to create a dense powder-cloud, reducing visibility and impairing breathing. Don’t jeopardise your escape.
• Check the pin and firing mechanism for any signs of problems or weaknesses.
• Check the dates on extinguishers and fire blankets. Have extinguishers serviced by a competent person, or replace them as recommended by the instructions.
• Only choose extinguishers that carry recognised approval marks such as those shown below, and choose units marked with at least an ‘A’ and ‘B’ fire rating.
• Familiarise yourself with how to use any extinguishers on board.
• Keep fire blankets and extinguishers within reasy reach, close to exits and risk points, such as the galley and engine area.
• Check extinguishers on a regular basis for serious dents, leaks and loss of pressure.
For any queries regarding for safety on boats contact MCL Fire!