Boat fire prevention

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.

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 your boat video transcript

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.

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