I want to start by saying I’m not any sort of an expert on the topic. But I find precious little information about what to do in case of a fire onboard available anywhere on the internet. So I’d like to share my thoughts and hope others will add more information in the comments.
Every situation is different and how to react is different. But a bit of thinking ahead can go a long ways in dealing with a disaster.
I saw the boat above burn in the LaPaz anchorage, just outside our marina. The owner was having dinner on another boat, and by the time the fire was visible, it was too far along to control. Shelly B burned to the waterline.
In another case, the boat next to us in a marina had an electrical fire while the owner was aboard. However, he was so flustered that he couldn’t figure out how to use his fire extinguisher and yelled over to see if we had one. We readied one for use, handed it over and told him how to use it. While Dave helped him, I started our engine and removed all but two dock lines (and ran those so that I could cast them off from the boat) — if the situation warranted it, I wanted to be able to get our boat out of there instantly (it wasn’t necessary).
Fires do happen. I could list more examples, but that’s not the point of this article. What I want to do is encourage you to think about what to do should you or a nearby boat have a fire. Talk with others on your boat to make sure you’ve all got the same understanding of what you’ll do . . . particularly if you’ve got kids on board.
- Never ignore a smoke smell or what looks like even the tiniest puff of smoke.
- If you discover a fire, use your best judgment as to whether you can fight it or you need to immediately evacuate.
- Immediately notify anyone else on board of the fire and what you plan to do. If you’re evacuating, many of these won’t apply. If there’s more than one of you aboard, you’ll able to do things simultaneously.
- Next, cut the fuel source (if you’re not sure, do all). Turn the batteries to off. Unplug shore power. Flip the main AC and DC power switches to off. Turn off the engine. If possible, turn the engine fuel off. Turn off the stove, the solenoid and the propane at the tank.
- If there are boats nearby that might be able to help, get on the radio or yell — depending on the situation, have them bring more fire extinguishers, call the fire department or even start prepping to tow the boat out of the marina.
- Use the fire extinguisher(s) and/or fire blankets (also see my articles on how to use a fire extinguisher and how to use a fire blanket).
- If the situation warrants it, think about tossing jerry cans of gas or diesel off the boat. Ditto for propane canisters.
- Constantly re-evaluate the situation and whether you need to evacuate.
- Grab life jackets and have them available if not at a dock. Think about readying/deploying the lift raft or dinghy.
- If at a dock — particularly with other boats — constantly be thinking about whether the best course of action is to tow the boat away from the dock before the fire spreads to any other boats or the dock itself.
Dave and I weren’t around when the fire below occured in La Paz. A good friend of ours, Dick from Corazon, began towing the boat to deep water with his dinghy (make sure to stay upwind of the boat on fire and have a knife handy in case you need to cut loose) and a couple other pangas came to help. This photo was taken by Dick’s wife, Judi.
Please add your thoughts on what to do in case of a fire on board in the comments.