Fire prevention and control

Recreational vessels are required to carry fire protection equipment in accordance with the Marine Safety Regulations.

Depending on the type of vessel and equipment on board, fire protection equipment may include one or more of the following:

Portable fire extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are required on all powered recreational vessels equipped with an electric start motor, gas installation, fuel stove or where any fuel is carried. They must be of a dry chemical type that complies with the relevant Australian Standards.

Table 1: Number of fire extinguishers required by vessel size

The table shows the number of fire extinguishers that vessels are required to carry according to its size.

Vessel sizeNumber required
Less than 8mOne
8m to 12mTwo
Greater than 12mThree

Table 2: Minimum fire extinguisher capacity

The table describes the minimum required size of a fire extinguisher according to a vessels capacity of flammable or combustible liquids that are able to be carried on the vessel.

Flammable or combustible liquids capacityMinimum capacity of one of the fire extinguishers
Less than 115 litres0.9 kg
115 to 350 litres2.0 kg
351 to 695 litres4.5 kg
More than 695 litres9.0 kg

Fire blankets

A fire blanket must also be carried on vessels where cooking facilities are located in an enclosed space. For example, the galley on a yacht.

The blanket must be positioned in a conspicuous location that is readily accessible to a person using the
cooking facilities. It must comply with Australian Standard AS/NZS 3504 "Fire blankets".

Bucket with lanyard

A bucket with lanyard must be carried on all powered recreational vessels. A bucket with lanyard allows water to be used to extinguish wood, paper and plastic fires.

The lanyard should be long enough to safely lower the bucket over the side of the vessel and retrieve full of water.

The bucket should be of a size that is able to be hoisted over the side of the vessel full of water. A ten litre bucket full of water weighs about ten kilograms.

The bucket may also be used as a bailer to bail water out of the vessel.

Fixed fire extinguishing systems

Instead of using a portable fire extinguisher, the master may fit their vessel with an approved fixed fire extinguishing system to the enclosed engine compartment, as long as it is of the equivalent size.

If the vessel must have multiple extinguishers, the fixed fire extinguishing system must be equivalent to the nominated portable fire extinguisher size and the additional portable fire extinguishers can be any size.

Examples

Michelle's 4.2m aluminium boat with a 25 HP engine has a fuel carrying capacity of 40 litres. The minimum fire fighting requirements are:

  • one 0.9kg dry chemical portable fire extinguisher (vessel less than 8m, with less than 115 litre fuel capacity)
  • one bucket with lanyard.

John's 10m Sports Cruiser can carry 1,000 litres of fuel (including cooking gas) and has a galley below deck. The minimum fire fighting requirements are:

With fixed fire extinguishing system:

  • fixed fire extinguishing system of at least 9.0kg capacity
  • one dry chemical portable fire extinguisher of any size
  • one fire blanket
  • one bucket with lanyard.

Without fixed fire extinguishing system:

  • two dry chemical portable fire extinguishers, one of which must be a 9.0kg dry chemical portable fire extinguisher
  • one fire blanket
  • one bucket with lanyard.

A fixed fire extinguishing system must comply with International Standard ISO 9094 "Small craft - Fire protection" Part 1 and Part 2.

Regular maintenance of your vessel is essential to preventing fire on your boat.

Ski boats with inboard petrol powered engines are most vulnerable to fire risk. Older vessels where electrical and automotive components have aged and become worn are also commonly involved in fire related incidents.

Converted car engines or non-marinised engines installed in boats create a higher risk of fire or explosion, particularly where owners may have attempted to modify their boat themselves or used unqualified technicians to do the work.

Boats that spend long periods of time out of the water need to be carefully checked for fire hazards before being used for the first time in the season.

Four tips to reduce your fire risk:

  1. Don't DIY on marine electrics – incorrectly installed electrical components are more likely to cause fire onboard your vessel
  2. Electrical work done on your vessel must be carried out by a reputable and qualified person
  3. Ventilate the engine compartment before starting the vessel
  4. Engine fires don't necessarily happen on the first start up – be vigilant throughout the day.

This short video on maintaining your boat has practical tips on keeping your boat in top condition to help prevent a fire.

Maintaining engines and electrics

Fires usually start in or around the engine because of leaking fuel that has led to a build up of fumes. These fumes are explosive. To help prevent this there are a number of maintenance issues you should be aware of and some safety advice you can follow:

  1. Guard against fires caused by split or perished fuel lines by only using fuel hoses with the highest ratings in boats. Cheaper fuel lines are made of inferior material which can become brittle, split or break and may deteriorate when in contact with petrol. They should be avoided.
  2. Clamps used to secure hoses must be tight and regularly checked. If they become loose, there is a risk that fuel will spill directly into the bilge or other confined spaces while it is being poured into the tank.
  3. The routing of the fuel line should be such that it can't be rubbed or worn by movement against a surface, as this could weaken it and result in leaks.
  4. Carburettors need to be dedicated marine units. These are specifically designed to direct excess fuel into the inlet manifold when the engine overflows because it has been flooded. At worst this will make the engine difficult to start.
  5. Carburettors designed for cars flood in such a way that fuel escapes. It then either pools in the top of the engine or finds its way into the bilge. This can cause a potentially dangerous build-up of vapour. Carburettors designed for cars should never be used in boats.
  6. Owners of petrol powered boats are advised to install good quality vapour detection units, ventilation (bilge) blowers and warning equipment, if they are not already in place. Once installed, the equipment should be maintained.
  7. Electrical components, such as starter motors, alternators and distributors, can be sources of ignition of a vessel fire. These components need to be marine-dedicated units fitted with flame arrestors to prevent sparks from starting a fire.

Fire prevention equipment 

Our safety equipment section has everything you need to know about fire prevention equipment for your vessel.

Know the rules before you refuel

Our safe operation section has everything you need to know about refuelling your vessel safely to reduce your fire risk.

LPG gas safety rules

Our safe operation section has everything you need to know about using liquefied petroleum gas safely to reduce your fire risk.

Further reading

Visit our vessel maintenance section for more information on what you can do to reduce the risk of boat fires.