What Should You Do If a Fire Breaks Out in the Back of Your Boat?

what should you do if a fire breaks out in the back of your boat

A fire is probably the last thing you’d be worried about when you’re out on the water. But boat fires happen, and it’s important to be prepared whatever the waves might toss your way.

According to statistics, some 260 recreational boat fires are recorded each year. So if you don’t want to be caught off guard if that ever happens on your vessel, it pays to know - what should you do if a fire breaks out in the back of your boat? We’ve got the answers.

The Most Common Causes of Boat Fires

What exactly causes boat fires in the first place? There are actually a few reasons why a part of your boat might suddenly burst into flames. These include:

Electrical Failure or Malfunction

Overloading your battery with appliances can increase the risk of a fire. Use only what you need and keep an eye on your shore power inlet during routine maintenance checks.

Leaking Gas Lines

Wear and tear will cause inevitable damage to your fuel lines, so it helps to check them regularly. See to it that you inspect your engine and sniff around for a leak before you head underway.

Engine Overheating

There are a lot of reasons why your cooling water intake might get blocked. In case this happens, your engine could overheat, causing a spark and a fire. Replace your pump impeller every two years to prevent blockage.


If you’ve got a stove on board, or anything that uses fire or heat like a grill, then it becomes an obvious fire hazard. Ensuring that any fuel valves are shut off can minimize the risk of fire.

According to statistics, fuel leakage and fuel vapors are the most common causes of boat fires. That’s why routine maintenance checks and constant checking of fuel lines and any fuel storage on board should be a part of your boating protocol.

How to Prevent Fires From Starting on a Boat

gas leak detector

What can you do to minimize the risk of your boat catching fire? Well, there are a few tips you can put into action to reduce the chances of a fiery boating accident. These include:

Proper Maintenance

Most often, boats involved in these accidents are older vessels with faulty equipment. Make sure you have your boat routinely checked for any potential issues and resolve them before you take it out on the water.

Check Your Fuel Lines

A fuel leak can be an explosive danger that puts you, your passengers, and your boat at serious risk. Check the bilge and sniff around to see if you’ve got any leaks. Use a fuel leak detector if you have one on hand.

We recommend the Klein Tools Gas Leak Detector.

Keep Flammables Properly Stored

Things like paper, wood, and fabrics in close proximity to fuel, oil, or other chemicals spells danger for a boat owner. Keep your flammables away from your engine, stove, or spare gas caddy.

Don't DIY Electrical Issues

Unless you’re a boat mechanic yourself, leave the electrical wiring to the professionals. Half-baked maintenance efforts further increase the risk of fire.

Don't Leave Cooking Unattended

If you’ve got a stove or a grill on board, you might want to turn that baby off if you’re stepping away even for just a minute. Never leave heat or flame unattended on a boat, since you never know what might happen when you’re not there to watch.

What to Do If a Fire Breaks Out On Board

telescoping paddle

Even with all of these preparations and prevention practices, it’s still possible for a boat to catch fire. You can’t control or anticipate every little aspect of your boat, so it helps to be prepared for a fire either way. Here’s what you can do in case a fire breaks out:

Inform Everyone on Board

All the people on board should be informed of the fire. Get everyone to wear their life jackets (if they aren’t already) and prepare to abandon ship if necessary. Strong winds and cramped spaces make boat fires especially quick, so they can spread at a rapid speed if you don’t quench it in time.

Stop the Boat

Turn off your engine and position your boat so that the fire is downwind. Secure the electricity and close of the fuel lines to stop feeding the fire, in case that’s where it’s getting its supply from.

Call the Coast Guard

You might only have one chance to do this, so make sure you do it before the flames get too overwhelming. Tell them how many people are on board, as well as your exact location. If there are other people on board who can make the call for you, hand them the task while you move on to the next step.

Extinguish the Flames

Take your fire extinguisher and hold it upright. Pull the pin and point at the base of the flames. At around 10 to 15 feet from the flame, sweep the blast back and forth. Keep in mind that these fire extinguishers typically only hold 8 to 10 seconds of discharge, so make it count.

Wait for Help

Do not turn your engine back on after the fire is extinguished since you could reignite the flame. If you weren’t able to call the coast guard, you can use a visual distress signal to let them know you need help. If you’ve got a telescoping paddle on board, then you might be able to move closer to aid, albeit with some difficulty.

Check out the Airhead Telescoping Paddle.

Ready for Anything

What should you do if a fire breaks out in the back of your boat? With the right equipment and know-how, any boat owner can safely and effectively douse out the flames and escape disaster. Sure, a boat fire is something boaters wish to never experience in their life. But with proper precautions, you can reduce your risk and keep your vessel safe for yourself and your passengers.

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