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Small Boat Fire Safety

While 2007 was one of the best years on record for general home fire safety in the UK, it was unfortunately, one of the worst in many years for fire safety on boats. Five people died in fires and explosions on boats on inland waters, twelve suffered major injuries and two more boaters died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Five of the seven fatalities were people living aboard a boat.


Below you will find some useful information on how to stay safe whilst spending any length of time on a boat.

You may also find the following leaflets of use to download:  

Contact the Fire & Rescue Service if you would like one sent to you.




How to make your boat safe

  • Fit a smoke detector

Generally alarms should be mounted on the deckhead or ceiling, 30cm from the cabin sides and within five metres of each protected area of the vessel. On some boats this will mean installing more than one alarm, and it is recommended to choose units that can be linked together.

  • Ensure furnishings and (foam) insulation are fire retardant
  • Run wiring looms through conduits to avoid chaffing
  • Contain and vent battery boxes





  • Use an approved container for carrying and storing petrol.


  • Stop the engine
  • Turn off all heating and lighting appliance and extinguish all cigarettes and naked flames
  • Use a funnel when decanting
  • Ensure tanks vent directly overboard and that fuel lines have a direct shut off valve that works



After Refuelling

  • Secure cap tightly
  • Ensure that there is no leakage or spillage
  • Before starting the engine, first ventilate the boat throughout




  • Fit in a gas detector
  • Secure cylinder in a weatherproof container with low-level atmospheric vents
  • Use approved piping
  • Isolate cylinders when not in use
  • Ventilate thoroughly any compartment which has not been used for some time
  • Regularly hand pump bilges to remove potential low-lying vapours
  • Do not leave a cooker or any other appliances unattended if there is a danger of a draught extinguishing the flame
  • Hatches and portholes should always be opened sufficiently to maintain essential ventilation (where prevailing weather condition permits)




When changing cylinders

  • Check that the valve on the empty cylinder is turned off before disconnecting
  • Do not turn on the valve of the full cylinder until it is securely connected



Recommended Firefighting Equipment

At least one of the following:

  • Dry Powder 1.5 kg
  • AFFF 2 litre
  • Foam 2 litre
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) 2 kg
  • Bucket 9 litre
  • Fire Blanket 0.75m x 0.75m



Action to be taken in event of fire:

  • Call the coastguard on the radio VHF channel 16
  • If the boat is moored, call the Fire Brigade on 999
  • Tackle the fire (if safe to do so)



When possible:

  • Put life jackets on 
  • Isolate petrol and gas if possible
  • Avoid and alert other craft
  • Prepare an emergency 'grab bag' and life raft



Further Information

Visit the Boat Safety Scheme Fire Portal for more information.

If you would like free advice on any aspect of fire safety, contact our Freephone Community Fire Safety Helpline on 0800 3581 999.

Any general enquiries should be directed to: 0300 1234 232

View our information on Dialling 999 in an emergency.



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