Fire at Sea

Boat Fires

Fire aboard your vessel is one of the most dangerous emergencies you will encounter. Due to the typical construction of most recreational vessels (wood or fiberglass), just about everything including the hull will burn.

At the Dock

At the dock, a fire onboard can happen to any vessel and has to be managed quickly and successfully, in order to prevent the fires spread; causing larger damages both to your vessel and other vessels moored in close proximity.

Boats on Fire
Superyacht Fire

Any passengers (friends or family) that you may be carrying, unless known to be experienced mariners or at a minimum, cool under pressure, should not be counted on to assist in mitigating any onboard emergency much less attempting to fight a fire.

At Sea

Remember... There is no fire department (paid or volunteer) that you can call, no paramedics or rescue personnel to aid in escape or tend to injuries sustained, and depending on your distance offshore even the Coast Guard may not be able to provide much assistance. The bottom line; if you cannot control and extinguish the fire quickly, your options are extremely limited and they nearly all involve getting wet!

Ok, so getting wet is not necessarily a big deal if you are sailing the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the BVI. On the other hand, cruising off the coast of Cape Cod in June with water temperatures averaging around 60° F and you flopping around on the surface like a wounded seal. Well... that maybe something worth thinking about.


This is something that you really need to think about... What will you do if you discover a fire aboard your boat?

Most recreational vessels are crewed by two person teams (husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, or some other combination; depending on your personal preferences). Additionally, you may be carrying 2 to 3 passengers for day cruising or extra crew when making bluewater passages.

Because of this, a multi-chapter manual of firefighting actions is not what is needed, in fact it doesn't even need to be written out. However, I would strongly encourage that if you develop any plan of action, put it down on paper or you will end up forgetting it. It will also give you and your regular crew something to review occasionally to refresh your memory and/or make changes as your cruising plans or crew changes.

You Need a Plan!

Sailboat on Fire
Sailboat Fire - Terry Healy

Have a Plan, because the last thing you want to be doing is calling your mother-in-law and telling her that her daughter and only grandchild perished in a boat fire because you didn't know what to do.

Things to Consider in Planning

Since every vessel and crew is different, a well-crafted fire plan will take into account your particular boat and typical crewing. Below we have listed some of the important things you should think about and consider when developing a fire plan for your boat:

Important Prerequisites

  1. A list of the locations and types of all fixed and portable fire extinguishers onboard.
  2. Instructions on the operation of any fixed fire extinguisher systems and location of activation handles, if installed (crew only)
  3. Safety Briefing for Passengers.

Actions to be Taken

  1. If a Fire is Discovered – "Sound the Alarm!"
    1. What type of alarm will you use?
  2. Passenger Evacuation or Assembly?
    1. Is the boat at the dock, at anchorage, or at sea? The differences can be important!
  3. What actions should be taken by the crew?
    1. Which crewmembers should be doing what?
  4. What actions to take after fire has been extinguished?
    1. Should you set a "Re-flash Watch" as an example?
  5. What actions to take if the fire cannot be extinguished?
    1. Should you abandon the vessel?

Small Crew Disadvantage

In all cases, small crews are at a distinct disadvantage. The smaller the crew the more difficulty you will have in assigning specific tasks to specific crew. Many things will need to be done; immediately and often simultaneously.

In the case of a small crew size, often the best course of action is to ensure that everyone knows what needs to be done and the best order to accomplish them without assigning specific tasks.

The most important thing to remember is
the fire has to be controlled and extinguished...


^ Scroll to Top