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Fire on a boat

What to do? When a fire occurs on your boat and what to expect when abandoning ship.

on August 15, 2021

Find out what to do when a fire emergency occurs on your boat, and what to expect when abandoning ship. Your safety matters! Be prepared to know what you will do in an emergency situation.

What to do? when a fire occurs on your boat and what to expect when abandoning ship

Facing a fire on a boat is not only scary but very stressful. How do boat fires start, what are the most common causes, how do we prevent them, and what do we do in this situation?

A fire is a terrifying ordeal, but you need to act immediately and take control of the situation. Fires can happen on any size or type of vessel and it's important to know what to do when one occurs.

The best thing to do in this situation is not panic, but instead, make a distress call and notify the coast guard immediately. In this blog, we will give you tips on what to do, learn more about fire safety.

Fires are classified under three types/classes, also known as the "ABCs," and fire extinguishers are rated according to the class of fire/ type of fire.

Class of fire

  • Type A = Fire caused by Solid Material includes wood, paper, cloth, plastics, etc. 
  • Type B = Fire caused by Liquid includes any kind of Liquid; varnishes, gasoline, diesel, etc.
  • Type C = Fire caused by Electrical includes anything powered by an electric circuit or equipment.


Boat fires, most often occur in the galley or engine compartment, it is vital to keep fire extinguishers on your boat, the number of fire extinguishers you need will depend on the size of your boat because you never know where boat fires start or when I would say its best to have at least two fire extinguisher, one inside and one outside. Many people have a fire extinguisher on their boat, but it's scary when you find that not everyone knows how to use a fire extinguisher, so always make sure that every person aboard knows and understands how to use it and when to use it.

Fire extinguishers are marked Type A, B, or C – These markings show the type of fire for which the fire extinguishers are used for. The fire extinguisher is equipped for type A fire or type B fire or type C fire; however, you do get multipurpose fire extinguishers, which would be the best option when buying. 

Fire extinguisher

What to do in case of a boat fire?

When we plan a day out boating we don't think of bad things that might happen, yes we do think of everyone's safety, but more in way of "life jackets" which is very important! Nobody thinks of a fire, however, it is best to prepare yourself and your passengers in case you find yourself in a fire emergency situation, safety equipment should always be easily accessible and your passengers should know where to find it, so as a safety precaution always point out the location of your marine safety equipment.

  • Before you start your boating trip, make sure every person on board knows the location of the following safety equipment: Fire extinguisher, fire blanket, medical aid kit, floating devices in case you need to evacuate into the water.
  • Stay calm and collected, as panic could cause more problems, you need to act immediately, the first thing you want to do is stop the fire using the extinguisher, however, the safety of your passengers comes first, so in a calming manner advise your passengers of the fire on the boat, and try to put the fire out.
  • Every person on board should know how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Determine the source of the fire
  • Depending on the fire's size, if a small fire occurs, use the extinguisher and take out the fire, call 911 or make a distress call if you are in open waters. Even if the fire is under control, fire rescue is still essential to make sure the fire is completely out and will not reignite.
  • While you are waiting for fire rescue, appoint a person to keep a lookout and ensure that the fire does not reignite.
  • Take everybody to a safe location on the boat, and prepare evacuation. If you are in the marina, evacuation would be more comfortable. If you are out on the open water, you will need to prepare all floating devices and evacuate into the water if you cannot control the fire, all passengers must have their life jackets on, and you should prepare a life raft if you have one.
  • Never use water for fire as it can cause the fire to spread, especially if it is gas or fire caused by Liquid.


What causes a boat fire?

Most boat fires occur on older boats, and generally, if a boat is not well maintained. The electrical problem most often occurs on older boats, and most fires start due to electrical issues, fires also occur in engine compartments and galleys.

Boat fires are not very common, but they happen, fires are very scary and it is important to practice fire safety, for you and your family.

  • Gas leaks, Flammable paints, and varnishes
  • Engine electrical (Open wires, connection) and Engine overheating.
  • Ac electrical like microwaves, heaters, etc.
  • Dc electrical aged battery cables and switches, loose battery connections, and human error is connecting the batteries wrong. 
  • Batteries (Old voltage regulators)
  • Human error: Leaving the stove on or leaving cooking unattended cooking, candle lights


How to prevent boat fires?

Fire detectors


Abandon ship 

Abandoning a vessel is the last resort; this will occur when the vessel is sinking or if there is an uncontrolled fire. Regular drills (Practice) are essential; every person on board should be prepared for such situations to avoid panic and uncertainty. Panic leads to severe injury and even death, everyone is scared when they come face to face with a fire emergency or if they need to abandon ship, I am sure many things go through your mind, however, if you are familiar with the safety procedures and you inform your passengers prior every trip, the panic will be less because every person will know what to do and what to expect.

Abandon ship

Heading into the water, especially in the ocean is a scary thought, most people will want to avoid going into the water and wait for the coast guard rescue team, but if a fire is uncontrollable your best protection is the water, staying on the boat will not work.

Abandoning ship procedure:

  • Send out a Distress signal.
  • Give clear instruction for the assembly position – Where all the people should come together. 
  • Complete assembly in the assigned station/location quickly and calmly avoid shouting and panic.
  • Crew members and passengers, put on the life jacket and immersion suite/ survival suite must be on hand –The survival suite protects against hypothermia. Immersion suits  & personal-flotation-devices
  • The safety officer is responsible for headcount before abandoning and report the count to the captain or master. 
  • The crew assigned and trained to operate the lifeboat must lower the boat/raft into the water.
  • Passengers enter the life raft using a ladder; the captain or master is the last person to leave the vessel and enter the raft.
  • Everybody should remain calm and collected.
  • Do not forget to take the following: Emergency kit, flares, beacon locators, life jackets and survival suits, floating devices.
  • Once all passengers are on board, move as far away from the boat/vessel.
  • Remain calm while waiting for the rescue team, and if it is cold, sit close to one another to keep each other warm.

Safety products:

Ocean-signal-rescue electronic-distress-flare


Immersion suits



safety equipment


In what order do passengers move onto lifeboats? 

  1. Trained crew to operate lifeboats
  2. Children together with one parent.
  3. Elderly
  4. Rest of passengers
  5. Captain or master


What not to do when abandoning ship:

Never cause panic, do not scream and run, do not push or bump each other as it will lead to injuries and slow the process of abandoning the vessel. 

Always be prepared, inform passengers of the procedures in case of an emergency. Stay calm, stay collected, and stay safe. 


Fires are a scary and stressful event, especially for boat owners. Knowing what to do when your boat catches on fire can save lives." Having this information at the ready is crucial for quick, timely decisions that could potentially save a life. Practice safety drills with any passengers and crew members before you set sail so they know how to react in case of an emergency and so that abandoning the vessel is less traumatic. Remembering these tips will help keep everyone calm if there's ever an issue while out on the water.

Related Blogs

What to do when Man overboard (MOB) – Marine Supplies US

What safety equipment do you need on your boat in case of emergencies? – Marine Supplies US

What to do in bad weather while boating? – Marine Supplies US

What to do when? A boat capsizes and Boating accidents. – Marine Supplies US

Prepare, practice, and prevent



Marine safety is the number one concern, at  Marine Supplies US we offer boat products and boat accessories to ensure your safety and we provide you with educational blogs that can be of great assistance in any emergency situation. Marine supply the chandlery who cares!


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