What Should You Do If the Motor on Your Boat Catches Fire?

what should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire

Fire, on water? Crazy as it might sound, it does happen. A motorized boat, just like any motorized land vehicle, will have various electrical and fuel powered parts that make fire a very real possibility. And although fires on boats are most common when the vessel is docked, there have been reports of people coming face to face with the flaming situation while they were out and underway.

Whether or not you think it might happen to you, preparing for a boat fire is any responsible boat owner's obligation. So what should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire? Here's how to keep your passengers safe and address the fire on your boat.

What to Do If the Your Boat Motor Catches Fire

Boat fires can be a frantic situation. Since it's one of the least expected accidents to happen on the water, lots of passengers might not know what to do in case of a fire. But before you let the panic get the best of you, here's what you should do immediately according to the quizlet on Boat Ed:

Stop the Boat

The first and most obvious thing to do would be to immediately stop the boat. Make sure that everyone on board is informed of the fire.

Wear Your Life Jacket or PFD

If your passengers aren't already wearing their personal flotation devices or PFDs, then see to it that you instruct everyone to don one. This is important in case you have to abandon ship.

Position Your Boat

Turn your boat so that the flame is downwind. That is, so that the wind blows the fire away from people and objects on your boat. Smoke can also reduce oxygen quality, so make sure it blows in the opposite direction of your guests. Use a paddle to maintain your boat's position.

Bust Out the Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are a requirement for boats. To put out the boat fire, aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire. Sweep the blast back and forth until the fires are quenched.

Call for Help

You can ask someone to radio or call for help as soon as the fire breaks out and before you even start to extinguish the flames. Summon help even if you think you might be able to extinguish the flames on your own.

Do not use water on the flame regardless of whether it's an oil, fuel, engine, or electrical fire. Water contains oxygen that can exacerbate the fire and cause it to grow even further.

If you suspect that the engine compartment might be involved in the fire, shut off the fuel system to stop feeding gasoline or fuel into the lines.

How to Prevent Fires From Starting on Your Boat

Whether it's your engine or your motor, there are things that you can do to prevent a fire emergency from breaking out on your boat. Observe these precautions to minimize the risk of boat fires and to guarantee the safety of your boating guests and crew.

Have a Departure Checklist

A departure checklist is a list of all the parts, systems, and features of your boat that require you to check them regularly, especially before every boating trip. This includes everything your engine, to your fuel supply, your fuel lines, your cylinders, your motor, and everything in between.

One of the most common causes of boat fires is that many boat owners leave the dock not knowing their boat's not in top condition. Once their out on the water, electrical or mechanical parts malfunction, causing a spark, ultimately causing fires.

Check for a Leak

Gas vapor that build up in your engine compartment could create a highly combustible atmosphere just waiting for a spark. See to it that you regularly inspect the fuel supply and lines for any possible leaks especially in concealed areas of your boat that lack proper ventilation.

Don't operate your boat when there's an obvious leak. If you don't trust your own nose, then you could install gas leak detectors to determine whether there's too a break in your fuel lines.

Practice Proper Stowage

There's really nothing stopping you from taking a jerry can of gasoline with you on your boat in case you need a refill sometime during your ride. But even then, it's important to make sure you practice proper stowage of any extra gas you have on hand, as well as all other flammable items you have on deck.

Keep these items away from sources of heat and make sure they're all sealed or screwed tightly to avoid starting a fire on your boat.

Never Leave Cooking Unattended

There are lots of ways to cook on pontoon boats these days, and there are no laws that specifically ban boaters from doing so. That also means that if you want to boat safely with a grill on board, most of the responsibility is going to rest on your own shoulders.

Never leave a grill or any other cooking appliance unattended even for a moment. Shut off the fire if you need to step away, or ask someone else to watch it for you. Always place your cooking set-up down wind so that the breeze blows the smoke and embers away from any materials, objects, and people you have on deck.

What is the Main Cause of a Boat Motor Catching Fire?

While most think that the engine is most susceptible to burning, it's not impossible that a boat motor catches fire. Experts claim that the most common reason for this happening would have to do with the raw water intake.

This cooling system keeps water constantly running through so as to reduce its temperature. So when the raw water intake is impaired or broken, the motor could overheat, leading to smoke and later on combustion. This is mainly how a boat motor catches fire.

Fire Safety Precautions for Boats

  • Make sure the fire extinguisher you have on deck is the right type, and is in proper working condition
  • See to it that your guests are given proper instruction on how to use a fire extinguisher
  • Ensure that there's at least one other person on the boat who can radio for help if the need arises
  • Instruct your guests prior to departure about the step by step process of responding to fires on a pontoon
  • Install a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector, as well as a fuel leak detector to keep your boat in check


Heat and an overworked motor make for a disastrous combination. Unless you want to bust out your fire extinguisher to put out the fire, it pays to do what you can to prevent the flames all together. So, what should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire?

The most important thing is to stay calm and hold on to your presence of mind. Act immediately, grab the extinguishers, alert your guests, and call for help. And don't forget to complete a marine departure checklist the next time you're scheduled for a boating trip.

Scroll to Top