Sub-menu Navigation

Easy steps to fire safety

Fires on boats can become serious very quickly. Luckily, it’s easy to equip yourself with the knowledge and kit to prevent – or tackle – a blaze…

Understanding Fire

A fire requires three elements: oxygen, a combustible material (fuel) and a source of ignition (heat). To put it out, it must be deprived of one or more of these three elements, but using the wrong extinguisher can make the situation worse.

Fires are classified in five groups:

A fires involving solids such as paper, wood, bedding

B fires involving liquids such as oil and petrol

C fires involving gases

D fires involving metals

F cooking oil and fat fires

Electrical fires aren’t included in this list because once the electrical source has been isolated the combustible material fuelling the fire falls into one of the categories above.


Different media are used to fight different types of fire. See Table 1 (below) to learn which sort of extinguisher should be used on different fires.

  • As well as being classified for the types of fire they can tackle, fire extinguishers are graded to indicate the size of fire for which they’re suitable.
  • When buying an extinguisher, look for a number/letter code on the canister, like 5A or 113B. The letter shows the fire group, the number is the area or volume it can treat. The higher the number the more effective the extinguisher.
  • Extinguishers capable of dealing with more than one group will have two codes – 5A/34B, for instance.
  • Extinguishers should be serviced by a competent engineer to ensure they operate effectively. It’s also essential that everyone on board knows how to find and use them.


When first sold or put into use, vessels built for the UK market in compliance with the UK Recreational Craft Regulations 2017 (RCR2017) and for the EU market in compliance with Directive 2013/53/EU (the Recreational Craft Directive - RCD), must ensure they do not endanger the health and safety of persons, property or the environment. That includes protection from risk and spread of fire and the provision of fire-fighting equipment appropriate to the fire hazard.

Both the UK and the EU recognise that conformity with the fire protection requirements can be achieved by applying ISO 9094, Small craft - Fire Protection which specifies, among other things, the minimum requirements for firefighting equipment. However, further means of firefighting may be necessary (or required by law). This applies particularly to UK registered private pleasure vessels over 13.7m, which fall under UK Merchant Shipping Regulations, and those that are required to comply with the UK Boat Safety Scheme certificate.

  • Even if firefighting kit isn’t mandatory, any vessel that’s constructed of, or carries, any flammable materials should carry firefighting equipment.
  • When planning fire safety, consider the amount of combustible material on board, where extinguishers might be needed and how to stow them.

The right place

On board, it’s good practice to stow fire extinguishers at the exits from each area of the accommodation – by the door of each cabin and by the companionway – so you can fight the fire and keep escape routes clear.

  • Extinguishers should be mounted securely in a location that’s easily visible and accessible but where they won’t be in the way of the day-to-day operation of the vessel. See Table 2 (below) for a guide to the number and type of extinguishers recommended for various sizes of boat.
  • On a small, open boat with no cooker or internal combustion engine, a single 5A/34B rated extinguisher may be sufficient. Store it away from the engine and fuel tank (if they’re fitted) and protect it from salt water.
  • If your boat has cooking facilities, then a fire blanket close to hand is often the most effective extinguisher.

Flammable liquids and gas

In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any flammable liquids on a vessel. But the reality is that most boats will carry things such as spare diesel for the main engine, petrol for an outboard motor and perhaps chemicals for general maintenance. It’s important that these are stowed in areas that are well ventilated. Ideally, petrol and other fuels should be kept in a dedicated locker that’s vented outboard.

  • All flammable liquids should be stowed upright and should be lashed or secured to prevent them moving about and rupturing the containers.
  • Another important consideration is gas equipment installation. If you suspect a gas leak, shut of gas at all shut-of points, extinguish any flames and ventilate the vessel (including bilges) until all trace of gas is gone. Fitting a gas alarm is also advised.

Engine rooms

It should be possible to tackle an engine room blaze without allowing air to enter the space, as this could make the fire worse. A small hole through which a fire extinguisher can be aimed is one solution, but many owners choose to fit a dedicated automatic extinguisher in the engine bay. The fire rating required will depend on the space in question and advice should be sought from the manufacturer. For larger spaces there are specialist fire systems available, often using inert gases as the fire-extinguishing media.



First published in the RYA Magazine, Summer 2020. Thanks to the Fire Protection Association for their assistance with this feature.

Find books for your course at the RYA Shop

eBooks in the cloud
Our handy guide shows the books & DVDs that go with your course!
Please select...