Before we discuss things to do when fires break out in boats, let’s learn some basic knowledge. If you have gone through all of these topics then congratulations! You can consider yourself to have a piece of high knowledge of basic boat safety. Let’s start with some abbreviations before we begin the main topic.
- POB = Person on Board
- SOLAS = Safety of Life at Sea
- FTTB = Fire, Toxic, Vapor, and Blast
- MOB = Man Overboard
- HELP = Hands-Every Little Push Saves a Life
- HEACS = Aids to Navigation Help All Alike
- HEAD = Cell Phone Emergency Global Positioning System
- HEPO = Helicopter Emergency Protocol
- HPFO = High Point of Flooding or Leak Location
- HELM = Help Everyone Locate Member
Now you have some new abbreviations that were just added to your knowledge base! There are many more out there, but I will let you learn them on your own. Let’s begin with the main topic.
Boat fires can be divided into two major categories: electrical and off-boat fires. It is critical to act immediately when a fire breaks out in a boat because it reduces the possibilities of the boat exploding, sinking (yes this happens), or causing further damage to safety equipment like Flares/Fire Extinguishers/Life Rafts/other Safety Equipment that might not work if they get wet or damaged during or after a fire.
Your first instinct is probably, “I want my boat back!” Well sometimes you cannot control the situation and you will need to abandon your boat and save your life.
Transportation accidents are the leading cause of death in the US, where roughly 100 people die every day. If you can survive a transportation accident, you dramatically increase your chances of survival by wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) such as a Life Jacket or Raft. Being able to swim is also very valuable; it is possible that you may end up in cold or strong currents and different waves with long distances from land which would make it harder for help to reach you.
- It is best to try and extinguish fires on boats before they spread out of control, but if this does not happen, here are some things that must be done:
- Turn on your radio and transmit a Mayday message on channel 16, the universal channel for distress and safety, so that help can reach you as fast as possible. Make sure to give them your exact location if you do not know where you are!
- Activate Foreslope Alarm (if installed) that goes off when boat is on its side or capsizes to alert nearby rescue vessels of an emergency situation.
- Put out flames with fire extinguisher only if the fire is small enough .
- If this does not work, activate Fire/Smoke Alerting Device (otherwise known as a “Smoke Detector”) which goes off when there is a significant increase in temperature or smoke. This device can be a manual alarm or a water-activated alarm.
- If this does not work, activate Emergency Flares so boaters in the area of your boat know of your emergency situation and can help you if they want to.
- If this fails, use a Foreslope Pump or hand pump/paddle to bring water from amidships (center) to front of boat where fire is located.
- While doing all this simultaneously, send out S O S message on VHF Channel 16 with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) so that the U.S Coast Guard knows where you are in case there was no Mayday distress sent earlier when the fire started. The Universal Distress Signal is the word MAYDAY.
- Use Life Raft or Floatee if possible because these can be thrown into the water easier than a raft.
- Keep your safety equipment close by in case you need to use it, along with survival supplies like food, flares/smoke signals, mirror signalling device, fire extinguisher(s) (water extinguishers are not recommended), first aid kit, pocket knife, sunscreen, etc).