Fire risks for boats are different to those of buildings.

Boats are small and have as many facilities and storage spaces fitted into the hull as is practically possible. There is little fire resistance in a boat - timber, plastics and fibreglass all burn readily and furiously - once a fire has started it will grow very quickly.

How to prevent a fire on your boat

Any engine maintenance should be followed by thorough ventilation of the engine space
The unpredictable movement of a boat, combined with vibration and the movement of the engine itself, makes fuel pipework and its joints susceptible to failure due to metal fatigue.

Heat resisting lagging can sometimes work loose.

Before taking on fuel:

  • stop the engine
  • turn off all cooking and lighting appliances
  • extinguish all smoking materials and other naked flames
  • check that you don't over-fill the tank
  • mop up any overflow
  • ventilate the boat thoroughly before starting the engine

Fuel handling:

  • unless absolutely necessary, do not store fuel on board
  • when necessary, it should be stored in appropriate containers in a compartment reserved solely for that purpose
  • open portable fuel containers only in fresh air, away from the boat
  • fuel should not be decanted in, or near a lock
  • LPG - propane or butane is heavier than air, if it leaks it will sink to the bottom of the boat and spread along the bilges, probably diffusing to form an explosive mixture which can readily be ignited by a small spark.

When changing cylinders:

  • check that the valve on the cylinder is turned off before disconnecting
  • where two cylinders are connected to a manifold or tee, close both cylinder valves before disconnecting either cylinder
  • do not turn on the valve of the full cylinder until it is securely connected
  • all LPG cylinders should be fixed securely in position

Fire extinguishers:

  • at least one fire extinguisher should be provided. They should be of the dry powder type and of at least 2kg capacity. The extinguishers should be serviced at least once a year by a competent person (the supplier may offer this service), and they should be hung on brackets fixed next to exits to the deck.
  • a separate fire extinguisher should be sited next to the access to the engine.

The top five causes of boat fires:

  • electrical - Poor wiring and the number of electrically operated appliances in a damp, sometimes wet environment
  • engine - with its fuels and pipework, hot surfaces and ancillary wiring housed in areas with poor ventilation all add to the risk
  • welding and cutting
  • LPG (liquified petroleum gas) and fuels
  • smoking