Fire aboard a boat can be a terrifying experience. A person may only have a split second to act to save themselves and all passengers. The importance of having fully charged fire extinguishers on hand, properly mounted and readily accessible is vital.
Most boat fires can be put out rapidly if you act immediately. Do not hesitate. If a fire starts, grab the extinguisher, activate it and direct it at the base of the flames. Use short bursts and sweep it from side to side. Do not wait until a fire starts to read the directions on the label. Take the time to make sure that you and those who boat with you regularly know and understand exactly how to use the fire extinguisher.
There are several preventable measures to take in order to avoid most boat fires:
•Clean bilges often and maintain proper gear stowage.
•Stow all flammable liquids in your dock box and not on board your vesssel
•Place oily rags in covered trash cans or dispose of them on shore.
•Store propane fuel for stoves in a secure area.
If and when a fire does break out on board your boat, never use water on fires started electrically, by gasoline, oil, or grease. Water will spread a gasoline fire and since water is a conductor of electricity, you may receive a damaging shock from an electrical fire. Water should only be used to extinguish burning wood, mattresses, rags, rubbish, and alcohol. When extinguishing the fire, make sure it is completely out. If not, it may smolder for a long while and possibly start again. If possible, soak burning materials over the downwind side of the boat. Also remember to avoid littering the waterways by removing any debris after the emergency is over.
Follow these steps if fire breaks out while you are underway in order to prevent the fire from spreading to other parts of the boat:
•Slow or stop the boat. Wind from the boat's motion feeds the flames.
•Keep the fire downwind. If the fire is aft, head the bow into the wind. If forward, put the stern into the wind.
•If the motor catches fire, shut off the fuel supply immediately.
Always remember not to panic. Many boats burn to the water line because people jump overboard without assessing the situation first. If you realize that the fire cannot be put out with the fire extinguisher, put on your life jacket and exit the boat upwind of the burning craft. Use a radio, cellular phone, or visual distress signals to gain assistance. Practice emergency procedures often and comprehensively. Be sure everyone onboard knows how to use the fire extinghuisers, V.H.F. radio and flares.
Remember - the majority of boat fires can be avoided by proper preventative maintenance.