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Fire On Board!

Boat Fires Can Quickly Get Out Of Hand. Put Passenger Safety First.
Boating Safety

You can learn more about fire safety regulations and fighting specific types of fires on board by taking a Boating Skills and Seamanship Course offered through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.  Visit the web site at to find one in your area.  The bottom line, however, is that your first consideration is to save your passengers and yourself.

The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit

Know the Types of Fires…

Fire is composed of heat, fuel and air.  Remove any one of those elements and the fire goes out.  Before fighting a fire, you need to know what type of fire you’re dealing with, and especially if electricity is involved.  There are four types of fire, classified according to their fuel source, and these types can also occur in combination. Fire extinguishers approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for marine use are designated by a letter that corresponds to the class of fire on which it can be used effectively, and a Roman numeral that refers to the relative size of fire the extinguisher and the amount of extinguishing agent it contains.  The larger the number, the greater the amount.

Class A: Common combustibles, such as wood, paper, and plastic can be tackled effectively with a cooling agent, such as water.  Extinguishing foams and dry chemicals can also be used.

Class B: Flammable liquids or gases - including oil, grease, paint thinner, alcohol, LPG and gasoline.  These are spread by water, so use a smothering agent, such as foam, dry chemicals or carbon dioxide (CO2) instead.  If the fire is being fed by an open valve or broken fuel line you will need to stop it at the source, if possible.  Attempting to put out a fire with an open fuel source risks an explosion; only chance it if you must put it out to reach the shut-off valve or to save a life.

Class C: Electrical equipment, conductors or appliances.  Always try to shut off the electricity first to eliminate the source of ignition and the chance of electrical shock.  Use only non-conducting fire extinguishing agents, such as CO2 or dry chemicals.  Understand that dry chemicals may ruin electronic equipment.

Class D: Combustible metals, such as potassium and sodium and their alloys, magnesium, zinc, zirconium, titanium and aluminum.  These burn at a very high temperature and often with a brilliant flame – for example, in marine flares.  Do not use water as it can cause the molten metal to splatter, inflicting burns on anyone nearby and possibly spreading the fire.  Instead, use a dry powder made especially for this type of fire or, if possible, jettison the burning material overboard.

Combination Class A/B: Use foam and dry chemical agents to extinguish a fire involving both solid materials and flammable liquids as these smother and cool the fire.  CO2 is effective in extinguishing a fire in an enclosed space, but use caution as it robs the air of oxygen and can suffocate a person as well.

Combination Class A/C or B/C:
Whenever energized electrical equipment is involved, non-conducting extinguishing agents, such dry chemicals and CO2 (in enclosed spaces), are the only choice.  REMEMBER: always try to shut off the electricity before fighting a boat fire.

….And What to Do Should One Occur

Fires are often referred to as a boat’s worst enemy, so take extra precautions to prevent fires and know how to extinguish them once they ignite.  Remember, the boat can be replaced, you can’t.  Boat fires can quickly burn out of control.  Be prepared to abandon ship.

FIND the fire and determine its size.
INFORM all passengers, move them away from the fire and get them into their life jackets, prepared to abandon ship.
•    Make a distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard and nearby vessels.
RESTRICT the fire
•    Close hatches, ports, etc. to reduce the air supply to the fire.
•    Shut off the power to electrical systems in the affected space.
•    Close off fuel/gas lines and ventilation.
•    Maneuver vessel to put the fire downwind and minimize the wind’s effect in spreading the fire.
•    If fire occurs at the dock, move passengers and any portable fuel tanks ashore.
•    Quickly determine the class of fire, appropriate equipment, extinguishing agent and method of attack.
•    Try to put the fire out with whatever you determine is appropriate – extinguisher, fire blanket, water buckets, etc..
•    Throw burning items over the side.
•    Activate any built-in fire suppression systems, first ensuring that all passengers have been evacuated from the fire area.
•    Once the fire is out, assign someone to watch for re-ignition. Consider using water to cool the fire site once the flames are extinguished.
•    Cancel May Day if assistance is no longer needed.

Warning: If water is used for extinguishing the fire, dewatering procedures should begin at the same time to avoid impairing the vessel’s stability.

View our "Fire on Board" photo gallery.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

Martin Bauman (not verified)
Jun 6, 2012

Good summary

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