When fire occurs on a boat its impact can be devastating, often leading to the vessel being destroyed. Follow our simple top tips to keep your boat and those on board safe, or download our handy booklet and keep it on your boat to remind yourself of our key tips.
- Optical sensor alarms with hush buttons and ‘sealed for life’ batteries are best for boats.
- Fit alarms in places you will hear them clearly if they sound.
- Consider installing linked alarms that will go off at the same time.
- Test the alarm each time you board and never disconnect it or remove the batteries.
Fires on privately owned boats kill at least three people every year. Fire can spread quickly on a boat even on water. The following advice and guidance will ensure you stay safe.
Carbon monoxide (CO) & gas detectors
- Fit a CO detector that is suitable for marine use and meets the British Safety Standards.
- Fit a bubble type leak detector in the gas locker.
- Push the detector button on a regular basis to check for leaks in the gas system.
Cooking on board
- Never leave cooking unattended and turn cooking appliances off properly after use.
- Be extra careful if you are cooking with oil as it can easily set alight.
- Keep the cooking area clean - a build-up of grease can start a fire.
- Use a spark device to light a stove without its own ignition.
- Avoid cooking if you are under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs.
- Standard BBQs shouldn’t be used on boats.
- Ensure you keep the cabin well ventilated
- Keep fabrics away from cooker tops.
- Ensure all hobs have shut-off or isolation valves.
Smoking on board
- Dispose of cigarettes carefully. Put them out, right out!
- Keep lit cigarettes and pipes away from anything that could easily catch fire such as curtains.
- Never smoke when refuelling or changing a gas cylinder.
- Use a proper ash tray that will stay stable on a moving boat and empty them regularly as a build-up of ash could cause a fire.
- Never smoke in bed or if you are feeling drowsy.
Heating your cabin
- Check the flues of coal or wood burning stoves for signs of leaks or blockages.
- Only use the fuel recommended by the stoves manufacturer as other types may burn too hot.
- Dispose of embers carefully. If they are still warm they could cause a fire or a build-up of CO.
- Choose furniture that carries the fire-resistant label.
- Keep fabrics and paper away from anything hot like hobs, flues and light bulbs.
- Use energy saving light bulbs as they don’t get as hot as normal ones and are therefore safer.
- Never leave a burning candle unattended and only use secure holders that will keep the candle stable on a moving boat.
- Take care when refuelling, put out naked flames first. Turn off the engine and cooking before handling any fuel.
- Prevent petrol vapour from entering the boat by closing the doors, windows or hatches and closing the awning.
- 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 on deck.
- Ensure you check and maintain your boats fuel, gas and electric systems on a regular basis.
- Don’t let oil or debris build-up in the bilges.
- Inspect the lagging of engine and heater exhausts for damage and deterioration and 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.
- Ensure gas appliances are installed and maintained routinely by trained engineers.
- Never restrict airflow by blocking vents or air gaps.
- Make sure gas cylinders are secure after they’ve been changed. Test for leaks with detection fluid.
- Whenever possible, turn gas valves off before you go to bed or leave the boat.
- Replace gas hoses showing signs of cracking, brittleness or discoloration.
- Store gas cylinders outside, in a self-draining and fire resistant locker. Keep them upright and secure from moving.
- Check for the British or European safety mark when buying electrical goods.
- Use a trained marine electrician to install and service electrics.
- Do not over-load adaptors. Keep to one plug per socket. Use the right fuse or circuit breaker to avoid over-heating.
- Unplug appliances when they’re not in use or when you leave the boat.
- Damaged wires can overheat rapidly, so look out for scorch marks or burning smells.
- Take extra care when reinstalling the boats batteries. Check straps or restraints are secure afterwards.
Make an emergency plan
- Ensure everyone knows how to close emergency valves and switches in case of fire.
- Keep a torch easily available to help you escape at night. Make sure you have a spare torch 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 you need to make a mayday call, check for any landmarks that may help the emergency services find you.
What to do if there is a fire
- Never enter a smoke filled space.
- If you are already in a smoke filled space keep low 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 off-shore move as far away from the fire as you can on deck and get everybody into life jackets.
- Take a VHF radio onto deck and call for help.
- Notify the Coastguard by radio, make a Mayday call and/or display a distress signal.
- If you are inland or moored near to land move everybody off the boat and call 999.
Fire blankets and extinguishers
- Familiarise yourself with how to use any extinguishers on board. Always read the instructions before use.
- Only tackle a fire with an extinguisher if you are confident how to use it. If in doubt evacuate the boat.
- Keep fire blankets and extinguishers within easy 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.
- Check the pin and firing mechanism for any signs of problems or weaknesses.
- Check the dates on the extinguishers and fire blankets and service or replace them as recommended by the manufacturer.
For more information on boat fire safety and routine safety checks visit:
For advice, checks of emergency equipment and emergency rescue information contact Royal National Lifeboat Institute:
For boat builders and service engineers contact the British Marine Federation:
Getting rid of old or damaged flares
Pyrotechnic flares are purchased and used by boat owners and have a use by and shelf life date. Once this date is reached the flares need to be disposed of carefully as they still contain an explosive hazard.
To dispose of flares you should contact any of the following:
- the place you bought them, if they offer a â€˜take backâ€™ scheme
- some marinas - a small charge may apply
- some life raft service stations
- some council recycling centres.
Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service do not accept or dispose of flares or other pyrotechnic devices at fire stations.