Boat Fires: know the risks and how to prevent the worst

fire extinguisher

Boat fires can have the ability to spiral out of control very quickly and could easily result in the destruction of the vessel. Even fires that could be considered small, can cause considerable smoke and heat damage to your boat.

Navigators and General, a major marine insurer, comment that in 2020 boat fire payments increased to be the highest claim payments made by them.

The following information could help to prevent a fire on your boat:


Main cause of boat fires

Usually, boat fires result from electrical faults, with internal wiring and shore power surges being to blame. However, it is not exclusively down to these faults, with overheating in the engine room compartments also occurring when the cooling system is not correctly functioning, demonstrating the need to for regular maintenance.

It is also vital to check the lagging as heat from the exhausts could cause problems with the heat protection failing.

A fire starting in the engine room is dangerous due to the flammable items stored there, so fires can escalate in no time.


Electrical Fires

As touched upon above, fires caused by electrical wiring malfunctions or faults are very common on boats. Wiring is often hidden and therefore spotting faults can be difficult. As a boat is a water-bound vehicle, corrosions can occur in the electricals. This paired with the vibrations from a motorised boat, cause the wires to rub together and break, leading to shortages and, in turn creating a fire hazard. Regular maintenance is the key to prevention in this case.


Galley Fires

As the Galley is the kitchen area of a boat, the usual fire risks you can encounter in your kitchen at home, can also occur here. Therefore, take the same precautions with appliances and stoves on board (switch off when not in use, clean after use etc.) that you would in any other kitchen. Cooker fires can be extremely dangerous, a galley is often a lot smaller than an ashore kitchen, so a stove fire can spread a lot quicker and rapid action is needed to prevent damage and a crisis.


Fire prevention tips:

  • Smoke alarms - test them regularly
  • Gas leak detectors
  • Carbon monoxide alarm
  • Cabin ventilation - Keep clear to avoid a build-up of toxic fumes
  • Ensure all hobs have a flame supervision device to shut-off the gas if the flame is blown out
  • Keep flammable fabrics away from heat sources such a cooking hob
  • Be familiar on how to use extinguishers and blankets and make sure they are in date
  • Keep fire blankets and extinguishers within easy reach of exists and risk points


Fuel and Power Safety

  • Regular maintenance on the boats fuel and engine systems
  • Do not allow oil or debris build-up in the bilges
  • Inspect surfaces and items adjacent to exhausts for signs of heat damage or charring
  • Check for leaks on exhaust systems of inboard engines
  • Check for loose fuel joints, damaged fuel tanks or deteriorating hoses
  • When refuelling, put out naked flames first and turn off the engine or stoves 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 away from the boat
  • Carry spare petrol in a self-draining locker or on open deck


For more information on this topic please visit the Boat Safety Scheme Website.