Emergency Preparedness

Fire Emergency Preparedness

Fire Emergency Preparedness

Fire Suppression

Despite being surrounded by water, there still remains the potential for catastrophic fire emergencies while boating. Boat operators should anticipate a fire emergency by fitting the vessel with the appropriate fire safety equipment, taking measures to prevent fire dangers and ensuring that they are prepared to deal quickly and efficiently with a fire that may ignite onboard.

The major key to fire suppression is to understand the fire triangle, which is made of the three elements required for a fire to be maintained. They include heat, fuel and oxygen. Because all three are needed to make a fire, removing any one of them will put it out.

Fire Triangle - Oxygen Heat Fuel

To successfully extinguish a fire, a boat operator must use the most appropriate extinguishing device. The most suitable device will put out the fire quickly with little damage to the boat or danger to its passengers. The classification of types of fires has made choosing the best device a bit easier.

Fire Extinguishers

As mentioned in Section 2 of this course, U.S. Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguishers are required to be carried as part of the safety equipment on personal watercraft and boats where a fire hazard could occur from the engines or the fuel system.

There are three types of fire extinguishers, and each is designed to put out a different kind of fire:

  • Class A- Materials that burn, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and plastic
  • Class B- Liquids that burn, such as gas, oil and grease
  • Class C- Electrical equipment

The U.S. Coast Guard requires that Class B-I or B-II extinguishers be carried on board and they must have a mounting bracket. Any fire extinguisher that an operator chooses for his/her vessel must be certified and labeled by the U.S. Coast Guard for marine use.

Proper Usage of Fire Extinguishers

All required portable fire extinguishers should be mounted with a clamp or bracket that allows for a quick and easy release. Before leaving shore, operators should check all on-board extinguishers for correct operating pressure and make certain that all passengers know how to use them safely and effectively. Extinguishers should be serviced, recharged and maintained by a qualified individual per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Dry chemical devices should be shaken in the upside-down position monthly to avoid caking and keep the contents active.

All extinguishers should be operated per manufacturer instructions. The extinguisher should always be aimed at the base of the fire when in use.

How to use a fire extinguisher

Fire Prevention

To help to prevent fires altogether, boat operators should abide by the following safety procedures and strategies.

Engine Startup

To avoid fires, boaters should run the engine blower for at least four minutes and should check for any vapors that may escape from the engine compartment immediately before starting it.

Safe Fueling

Fuel nozzle in boat

As mentioned in Section 3 of this course, operators must understand how to safely fuel their boat to avoid creating a fire hazard and harming the environment with a spill. The following are guidelines for avoiding a fire hazard:

  • Moor the boat securely to prevent spills.
  • Shut off all engines.
  • Send guests ashore.
  • Put out all open flames.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Turn off electrical switches and power supplies.
  • Do not use electrical devices such as portable radios.
  • Close all windows, portholes, hatches and cabin doors.
  • Remove portable tanks from the vessel before refueling.
  • Ground the nozzle against the filler pipe.
  • Know how much fuel the tank can hold and do not overfill it — boaters have a duty to prevent fuel leaks and spills into the boat’s hull and the water.
  • Wipe up spills and dispose of the used cloth or towel in an approved container.
  • If boat is equipped with a ventilation fan, run fan after fueling for a few minutes to disperse fuel vapors.

Using Fuel-Burning Appliances

Vapors from gas and leaking propane or butane are heavier than oxygen and will quickly flow into the bottom parts of a watercraft. These vapors are highly explosive.

Portable fuel-burning equipment or appliances that are used on a watercraft should only be used in a well-ventilated location on an open deck or in an open area and should be well-secured to prevent movement while in use. Fuel-burning appliances that are not in use should be stored in a well-ventilated area that has no heat or ignition sources.

All fuel-burning appliances on board should be designed specifically for marine use and open flames or cooking systems should always be attended.

Ignition Protection (As Required) 

Any vessel that has an engine that uses gasoline or propane devices must be equipped with ignition-protected electrical devices. Such parts are created so that they will not ignited gasoline or propane vapors. This type of protection prevents sparks from forming during use. If a boater is unsure whether his/her boat has the appropriate ignition protection devices, he/she should have it serviced by a certified marine technician.