What To Do if a Fire Breaks Out in the Front of Your Boat

Guides

You have had a lovely evening watching the Northern Lights. You are on a scientific expedition to the Arctic, and nighttime has the added advantage of a free “disco lights show”.

The time comes when you must rest and wake up early and continue with your journey. You and your team retire to sleep,switching off the main boat engines and the small auxiliary boiler to provide heating on board the boat.

You snuggle in and fall asleep as you watch the lights display through the open port window.

Suddenly you are jerked awake by the fire alarm and the rest of your team running up and down the boat. There is a fire coming from the front side of the boat. They seem unsure of what to do in such a situation.

What should you do immediately if a boat motor catches fire?

The steps to take when fire starts at the front of the boat

 

1.      Switch off the engines

Most boat fires become worse if the engine is still running. The fuel coursing to the engine can easily catch fire and an explosion may occur.

 

2.     Turn off the fuel supply

All boats come with a safety mechanism that enables you to switch of the fuel supply to the engine. This is to ensure that fuel does not spill out in case the fuel lines have been compromised by the fire. Leaking fuel can cause the fuel to reach the tank and explode.

 

3.      Turn off gas cylinders

If there are gas cylinders on the boat, turn off the nozzles to make sure that there are no gas leakages should the fire compromise the gas lines. Although the cylinders are at a risk of exploding due to the heat of the fire, turning off the nozzles reduces the risk.

 

4.      Turn the boat into the wind

Turn the boat such that the wind is coming from the stern. This helps in slowing down the spread of the flames from the front. The wind will blow towards the front,thereby keeping the flames in that area. If you turn the boat into the wind,when the fire started at the front, then the flames will spread faster from the front towards the stern due to the wind.

 

5.      Beware of smoke

Smoke from a fire carries harmful substances. If fire breaks out in front of the boat, you should make sure that you run away from the smoke. Carbon Monoxide can easily become fatal, or cause incapacitation allowing the fire to overwhelm the victim.

 

6.      Radio for help

It is always best to have a portable radio handy for such emergencies. Use it to radio for help, incase there are other boats or ships that can come to your rescue

 

7.      Muster the passengers to a safe area

if you have passengers who do not have sailing experience, you should muster them into a safe area where they can all be accounted for. While you are gathering them, make sure they put on their life jackets, in case you have to abandon the boat before the fire is extinguished.

 

8.      Use the marine fire extinguisher

Get the extinguisher and put out the flames that you can manage. The best marine extinguishers are the foam and carbon dioxide extinguishers. Never try to use water when the fire is caused by leaking fuel or grease from the galley. The oily materials simply float on the water which sweeps them faster across the surface causing the fire to spread quickly.

 

9.      Use the fire extinguisher effectively – Always remember the PASS method:

a)     P – Pull the PIN.

b)     AAIM at the base of the fire.

c)      SSQUEEZE the handle of the fire extinguisher.

d)     SSWEEP the fire by swinging the extinguisher from left to right in a sweeping motion.

 

10.  Deploy the life raft

Have someone deploy the life raft of the boat, near the position where you mustered the passengers in case you need to use should you be forced to abandon ship.

 

11.  Choke the fire

One of the main ingredients for a fire to thrive is Oxygen. When fire runs out of Oxygen, it dies out. This is the principle used when designing fire extinguishers. Close off all windows and door leading to the area where the fire is burning. With luck, it will burn itself out before leaving the room.

 

12.  Be careful when opening doors and enclosure covers

When opening a room or enclosure to use the fire extinguisher,open the door or cover just enough to push the nozzle of the extinguisher through. Throwing a door or cover wide open simply makes Oxygen flow back and keep the fire burning. In extreme condition, such actions can lead to a blowback explosion.

 

13.  Call emergency services

if you are close to shore and have a cell phone signal, have someone call emergency services and call for help. The Coast Guard will immediately respond to your call.

 

Important Note – regularly running fire drills greatly improves your chances of survival in case a fire breaks out on your boat. You will act on instinct since you are filly familiar with what to do. It is also important that you ALWAYS KEEP CALM.

Fire safety on boats – Be prepared.

 

The best way to fight a fire on a boat is to be prepared for the fire before it even starts. This means checking our fire-equipment before going on long voyages. It also means having all the safety mechanisms in place and in working order.

Check your fire extinguishers

Marine fire extinguishers should always be checked by fire officials and accredited to be in good working condition. This holds true even for city buildings, schools, factories and other places where fire safety is a concern.

Get the Coast Guard fire officials to vet your marine fire extinguishers on time. Vetting involves checking if the mechanism works, and weighing the extinguisher to check on the contents within. If the active substance (Foam or Carbon dioxide) is below 90%, it should be refilled immediately.

Place extinguishers in easily-reachable areas

Make sure that your fire extinguishers are in an easy-accessible place or enclosure. Should fire break out on your boat,the last thing you should be doing is digging through a lot of stored items in search of the fire extinguisher.

Instruct your passengers on safety procedures before setting out to sea

If you are carrying passengers, you should take them through the safety drill to be followed when out at sea. They should be aware of what to do in emergencies such as capsizing, storms, falling overboard and fire.

Check the content of your first aid kit

People have a tendency of thinking about the first aid kit when they are injured. When you have a fall on the deck, you get some supplies form the first aid kit and treat yourself.

However, do you ever remember to restock the supplies you used?

Always make sure that you first aid kit is ready for every emergency that may come along. This means replenishing any supplies that you may have used in the past. Also make sure that you have three or four first aid kits strategically placed at different locations of the boat.

Install smoke alarms

A fire can break out when you are deep asleep; install an audible fire alarm to alert you when there is fire. This will give you time to escape and get to a safe are on the boat or alert emergency services.

Gas cylinder safety procedures

If you use gas cylinders to cook on the boat, follow the procedures laid out below:

·        Install a gas detection system,and always check it to make sure that it is in working condition.

·        Turn off all cylinder valves when you are changing the gas cylinders.

·        Hand-pump the bilges, the areas at the bottom parts of the hull, so you get rid of any low-lying vapors that may ignite and cause a fire.

·        If you have to attend to something else when you are cooking, turn off the gas before you leave – never leave any cooking unattended.

·        Ensure that your cooking area is well ventilated to avoid buildup of carbon monoxide when cooking.

Electrical system safety procedures

In order to avoid fires from being started by faulty electrical systems, follow the procedures below:

·        When buying electrical goods to use on your boat, make sure they have a safety mark from an accredited institution e.g. British or European safety mark

·        Do not overload the electrical outlets on the boat. Ensure that you only plug in one device to a single socket. Make sure that you have appropriate circuit breakers on your boat and working fuse son all electrical goods.

·        Hire the services of a qualified marine electrician when installing or servicing electrical items and wiring on the boat.

Fuel system safety procedures

Fuel is a huge fire hazard if it is not handled with caution. Follow the procedures below to reduce the risk of a fire breakout from fuel-related incidences:

·        Always ventilate the engine before you start it up. Do the same after any maintenance procedure.

·        Check the fuel line regularly for faulty line connections of breaks in the line. Also check the fuel tanks for fissures or leaks.

·        Always store spare fuel on the upper decks of the boat where the flames will not reach easily.

·        When refueling, make sure that the engine is turned off. Also put out any naked flames from the galley and other smoking materials like cigarettes and cigars.

·        Ensure that all fuel lines have a direct shut-off valve and test it regularly to make sure that it is in working condition.

·        All air, exhaust and other gases from the fuel tanks should be released directly overboard.

Go beyond the bare minimum

When you buy a boat, the manufacturer installs the bare minimum when it comes to fire safety equipment. For example,you may find a boat with two or three fire extinguishers. Think about your capacity and add more extinguishers, placing them at strategic points on the boat.

Follow this procedure when it comes to other safety equipment, e.g. adding more life jackets on the boat, having an extra inflatable life raft secured to the top decks of the boat, etc.

Make sure you have enough food and water for a couple of days, in case emergency systems take too long to find you. This is especially crucial when you are far out in the open waters

.

Have a healthy dose of common sense

Some of the fires started on boats and other areas ashore are caused by carelessness. When you go out for a party on a boat, make sure that flammable substances are kept far from the party.

You should also have some people stay sober to control any unruly behavior.

Of all the safety regulations set forth by the Coast Guard, the ones listed below are very important in ensuring safety on the boat and minimizing the risk of fire.

All boat owners and operators should help reduce fatalities, property damage, injuries and associated health costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for the own safety and that of their passengers.

Do not operate a boat when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI).

If you have an unfortunate situation on your boat like an emergency fire, you can make sure you have all the necessary sailing gear to keep yourself safe including fire extinguishers, etc.

Conclusion

You don’t need to be on an expedition or long-range boating excursion to take fire safety seriously. There have been incidences-of fatalities on boats that were not too far from the shore, simply because fire safety procedures were ignored.

Take fire safety seriously whenever you get on a boat and set sail. “Prevention is better than cure”; this may sound like a cliché, but you should take it seriously.

All the safety measures in the boating world would be of no assistance if you are not in a condition to implement them properly. Be cautious at all times and avoid eating or drinking anything that may impair your judgment.

As the U.S. Coast Guard says “Boat Responsibly!”

Tony Nderi

Tony is a creative writer and has contributed many articles to the DeepSailing community blog.You can learn more about this site in the about  us page. We set this up for a community of sailing lovers all over the world. If you'd like to send us your photos or stories, we'd love to hear from you and share it with our community. Just use our contact form and we'll get back to you.

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