A fire on the bow (front) of a boat can be very serious if it is not extinguished immediately.
If a fire breaks out in the front of your boat, follow the 6 steps:
- Move All The Passengers To The Stern
- Turn The Boat In The Same Direction As The Wind
- Switch Off The Boat Engine, Fuel Supply & Gas Cylinders
- Extinguish The Fire With Marine Fire Extinguishers
- Send A Distress Signal
- Deploy A Life Raft
Following these steps should help with stopping a fire onboard the boat and help keep the passengers and crew safe.
1. Move All The Passengers To The Stern Of The Boat
The first step to follow if a fire breaks out in the front of your boat is to instruct all the passengers to move to the stern of the boat.
The stern of the boat is at the rear and is the furthest away from the fire.
Alert all the passengers to move to the stern above deck. Instruct the passengers to wear their life jackets.
The benefits of moving the passengers to the stern of the boat are:
- Reduce the chances of them getting burned or injured from the fire
- Reduces the chances of them suffering from smoke inhalation
- Reduces the chances of them suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning
Getting all the passengers to the boat's stern will take less than 1 minute to complete on most recreational boats.
2. Turn The Boat In The Same Direction As The Wind
The second step to follow if a fire breaks out in the front of your boat is to turn the boat in the same direction as the wind.
Turn the vessel so that the wind is blowing in the direction from the stern to the bow of the boat.
To determine the wind direction, check any flags on the deck to see which direction they are blowing, read electronic wind direction devices (where applicable) or simply put your hand outward horizontally and feel which way the wind is blowing.
A wind speed of 1 knot or more can cause a fire to spread onboard.
The benefits of turning the vessel in the same direction as the wind are:
- Help keep the fire from spreading: The wind blowing from the stern to the bow will blow the smoke and flames away from the rest of the boat, reducing the chances of the fire spreading
- Help the passengers and crew to breathe: The flow of air through the boat will help to ventilate the vessel and reduce the intensity of the fire and push the smoke in a direction away from the boat which will help passengers to breath
Turning a boat in the same direction as the wind will take 1 to 2 minutes to complete for the majority of recreational boats.
3. Switch Off The Boat Engine, Fuel Supply & Gas Cylinders
The third step is to shut off the boat engine, fuel supply, and gas cylinders.
Turn off the boat engine and ensure it is fully turned off. As a safety precaution, take the key out of the ignition.
Turn off the fuel supply to the engine. Turning off the fuel supply can be done from the cockpit on most recreational boats. However, on some inboard recreational boats, the fuel supply can only be turned off from the engine compartment.
Disconnect any gas cylinders onboard the boat and move them to the stern of the boat if possible. It is important to keep the gas cylinders as far away from the fire as possible to prevent any explosions.
The majority of gas cylinders can be found in the galley of a boat. However, gas cylinders may be located in storage units onboard too.
The benefits of switching off the boat engine, fuel supply and gas cylinders are:
- Prevents the fire from spreading to other parts of the boat
- Stops the potential for a fuel leak catching fire
- Reduces the possibility of a fire explosion onboard
- Removes extremely flammable items from potentially catching fire
- Reduces the chances of further boat damage
Switching off the boat engine, fuel supply, and gas cylinders take 1 minute to complete.
4. Extinguish The Fire With Marine Fire Extinguishers
The fourth step is to get all the onboard fire extinguishers and try to extinguish the fire at the bow.
Use the fire extinguishers in the P.A.S.S. method. The P.A.S.S. method is:
- Pull: Pull the pin from the top of the extinguisher
- Aim: Aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire
- Squeeze: Squeeze the handle at the top of the extinguisher
- Sweep: Sweep the hose of the fire extinguisher from left to right to spray the sodium bicarbonate powder over the fire
Fire extinguishers are most commonly located in the galley, at or near the steering station, and in the engine compartment of a boat. A standard marine fire extinguisher will cover 10 square feet of fire at the front of your boat.
The benefits of using a fire extinguisher are it will help to extinguish the fire fast, it acts fast, it is portable and it can prevent further damage to the boat.
Spraying a standard marine fire extinguisher will take about 1 minute to 90 seconds before it is empty. This will vary depending on the size of the extinguisher.
Depending on the size of the fire, it may require using multiple fire extinguishers to completely extinguish it. Most fires on the front of a boat will be extinguished in between
When working to extinguish the fire, be aware of the smoke. Too much smoke can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or large amounts of smoke inhalation.
5. Send A Distress Signal
The fifth step is to send a distress signal to emergency services if the fire can not be extinguished with a fire extinguisher.
There are 3 main ways to send a distress signal which are firing flares into the sky, radio for help, and contacting an emergency service by cell phone.
The best ways to send a distress signal in the event of a fire are by using the VHF radio or a cell phone if the cell phone has a signal.
To send a distress signal over the boat's VHF radio, select channel 16 (156.800 MHz) on the radio as this is the universal emergency channel monitored by the coast guard and other nearby boats. Provide the boat name, type, size, location, number of passengers onboard, and details about the fire emergency to the person on the other side of the communication.
To send a distress signal over the cell phone, contact 911 if in the United States Of America. Alternatively, contact the local coast guard for assistance if you have their local contact number.
To send a distress signal by using flares, get the flare gun and shoot the flares into the sky. A flare is more useful in the nighttime rather than on a bright sunny day when it may be harder to see.
The benefits of sending a distress signal are:
- It will alert emergency services to your fire issues
- It will provide professional assistance in extinguishing the fire in the front of the boat
- It will offer evacuation support for everyone onboard
Sending a distress signal over the VHF radio or cell phone is instant and a boater will typically hear a response within 30 seconds in most instances.
Firing flares will take about 10 seconds to do and a boater may not get a response if the flare is not seen.
6. Deploy A Life Raft
The sixth step is to deploy a life raft.
If the front of the boat catches fire, passengers and crew will need to be prepared for the vessel potentially sinking.
Ensure every person onboard is wearing a U.S. coast guard approved life jacket. The life jacket should be tied properly to get the full benefit of it in the water.
Then, deploy a life raft. To deploy a life raft if there's a fire at the front of the boat, take the life raft to the stern of the boat and inflate it in the water.
Typically, there is an emergency inflatable device built into the life raft. This will inflate the raft in under 1 minute.
After the raft has been inflated, instruct the passenger to get into it.
The benefits of deploying a life raft are:
- It will remove the passengers from the boat on fire
- It will prevent the passengers from suffering from smoke inhalation
- It will prevent the passengers from drowning in the event that the boat sinks from the fire damage
- It will prevent the passengers from being burned in the fire
Deploying a life raft and getting all the passengers onto the raft will take approximately 2 minutes in total to complete. This will vary based on the number of passengers and the size of the raft.
What To Do If There's A Fire In The Front Of Your Boat Summary
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions about what to do if a fire breaks out in the front of your boat.
What Is The Fastest Way To Stop A Fire On The Front Of Your Boat?
The fastest way to stop a fire in the front of a boat is to use fire extinguishers to extinguish the fire. Depending on the size of the fire, using fire extinguishers to extinguish a fire in the front of a boat will take 3 to 5 minutes to complete.
What Is The Slowest Way To Stop A Fire In The Front Of A Boat?
The slowest way to stop a fire in the front of a boat is to contact emergency services and wait for them to come out on the water and extinguish it. Waiting for emergency services to come and extinguish a fire in the front of the boat can take 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete depending on how far the boat is out at sea.
What Items Do You Need To Stop A Fire In The Front Of A Boat?
The items needed to stop a fire in the front of a boat are:
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire blankets
- First aid kits
What Safety Measures Should Be Taken To Prepare For A Fire Breaking Out In The Front Of A Boat?
The safety measures to prepare for a fire onboard the front of your boat are:
- Place marine-grade fire extinguishers in easily reachable areas on the boat
- Place fire blankets in easily reachable areas of the boat
- Instruct all passengers on fire safety procedures before a boat trip
- Ensure the fire and smoke alarms are fully functional
- Ensure life jackets are fully operational
- Ensure the life raft is working properly
- Ensure the VHF radio is operational
- Ensure emergency flares/distress signal items are working
What Should You Avoid When A Fire Breaks Out In The Front Of Your Boat?
When a fire breaks out in the front of your boat, you should avoid:
- Panicking and losing control of the situation
- Attempting to extinguish the fire with water as this can cause the fire to spread or cause an electrical shock especially if it is an electrical fire
- Opening the hatch or cabin as this can cause an influx of oxygen that could fuel the fire (applies to fires inside the boat in the boat bow)
- Not activating the boat's fire suppression system if it has one
- Not calling for help immediately, activating the boat's distress signal, and evacuating the boat if necessary