How to Reduce the Risk of Fires Onboard Your Boat

15 boat fire prevention tips from the nonprofit Sea Tow Foundation.

Fires are among the more dangerous, yet preventable, accidents that can occur onboard a boat. For that reason, the nonprofit Sea Tow Foundation, in conjunction with Sea Tow Services International – the nation’s leading marine assistance provider – offers boaters these important fire prevention tips.

Fast action combined with a cool head are critical in fighting boat fires, as they can spread rapidly. Following these procedures not only can help boaters prevent a fire, or contain it if one breaks out, but also could help them save lives.

The Sea Tow Foundation’s Boat Fire Prevention Tips:
Ensure you have the proper size and type of marine fire extinguishers on board. Depending on the size of your boat, you may need more than one fire extinguisher. The U.S. Coast Guard has this information in its Federal Requirements brochure, which is available online at


Mount the fire extinguishers in readily accessible locations so that you can get to them in an emergency.

Inspect your fire extinguishers regularly to make sure they are fully charged and have not expired. If you have a fixed firefighting system, have it inspected and/or serviced according to manufacturer recommendations or at least annually.

Most boat fires are caused by fueling or electrical issues:
Before fueling, have all passengers leave the boat and shut off all flames (stoves, ovens, grills, etc.). Close all windows, doors and openings to prevent fumes from entering the boat.


While fueling, keep the nozzle in contact with the tank to prevent sparks and do not overfill the tank, so the fuel has room to expand. Wipe up any spills and dispose of the rags.

Never smoke while fueling!

After fueling, open all the windows, doors and openings and run the exhaust blower for four minutes.


Before starting the engine, perform a “sniff” test of the bilge and engine compartment. If you smell gas, continue to use the blower until all of the fumes are gone.

To prevent electrical issues, frequently inspect the electrical connections. Also, inspect any shore power connection lines that you may be using before plugging them into your boat. If any wires are frayed or you see sparks, immediately shut off the power source and get the issue repaired before using it again.

Be cautious when using heaters in enclosed spaces, especially when unattended.


How to deal with a fire if one does break out:

Make sure that everyone on your boat is wearing a life jacket in case they have to jump overboard.

If possible, position the boat so that the fire is downwind and have all passengers move upwind, away from the fire

NEVER use water on a gasoline, oil, or grease fire as it may cause the fire to spread. Additionally, water should not be used on electrical fires due to risk of electrical shock

Get your fire extinguisher ready to use. Use the PASS method.

Pull pin
Aim at the base of the fire.
Squeeze handle
Sweep from side to side.

Call for help on your VHF Radio or cell phone. Prepare to abandon ship.

For more boat fire prevention tips, click here.