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

What should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire?

To begin with, don’t panic. You should immediately stop the engine, switch off the power supply, move away from the fire, turn off all lights on board, use a fire extinguisher and call for assistance.

This is not an exhaustive list of items to consider, more like a checklist of suggestions for getting out alive. So without further ado, let’s get started.

What should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire?

Power off source

Stop the boat, switch off the ignition, and cut the fuel supply as quickly as possible. This is vital as it can prevent further damage from happening. Don’t worry about the craft that will drift away, just make sure that there’s not a bigger fire raging before losing your precious boat.

Go downwind

Turn your boat downwind to prevent the fire from spreading to other areas. If your boat is massive, then you might want to reconsider your options here and change course in a different direction. Downwind also ensures that no fuel is being burned, further preventing a fire from breaking out.

Ask for help

Using radio or boat flares, call for help as soon as possible. If you’re far away from the shore, there’s not much you can do besides waiting for help to arrive. But if you have a cell phone and a signal on your boat, use it to call for assistance. This way, someone will know that you’re in deep trouble out at sea.

Put on life jacket

Life Jacket
Life Jacket

Life jackets are usually the first item you’ll put on after turning off your motor. Make sure the other people on board your boat are also wearing theirs properly, especially if they’re not good swimmers. You never know what can happen.

Turn off cylinders

If you have a stove or barbecue on your boat, make sure that it is off as well to prevent any further combustion. This step is optional, but we highly recommend doing it. However, if the flames are far from these gas cylinders and they’re not in danger of exploding – leave them on.

If you have anything that can burn, such as a closet full of clothes or a wooden deck, make sure to move it away from the fire. In these cases, prevention is better than cure.

Try to fight the fire

Fire fighting methods on board boat
Fire fighting methods on board boat

If the fire is small and manageable, try to put it out yourself using the fire extinguisher. If you’re afraid of getting burned, ask for help from your fellow boaters. There should be a fire extinguisher outside your cabin or passageway, and it’s crucial to know how to use it efficiently. Do not use water because it will not work. Fire needs to be contained and gradually burned out by enclosing the fire source; hence, this is why a fire extinguisher is needed.

The goal is to make sure that there’s no oxygen supply for the fire to breathe. If you’re not able to put it out yourself, try covering the flames with an object such as a blanket or a tarpaulin.

Fire safety tips on boats

Take care of your boat motor

You should inspect the boat motor for potential fire hazards. Maintain your boat’s motor well especially the safety devices. Check out the Wiring before starting the motor to avoid short circuits. Do not overload Electrical wiring for obvious reasons, this can cause short-circuiting and sparks.

Keep ready fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers
Fire extinguishers

A sufficient number of extinguishers should be available for safe usage. Extinguishers should be placed in strategic locations to ensure that they are easily accessible.

Check fire detection system

When a fire starts on board, the fire detection system immediately triggers a signal to call for help from the crew and increases the focus of all crew members. The system provides the most reliable information and you can easily use it as a warning device before there is even visible smoke or fire. In many cases, a fire breaks out in the engine room, in the bilge, or in other inaccessible places. Before there is any smoke, the system can detect combustible gas and fire.

Get a first aid box

You may want to have a first aid box in your boat for emergency situations and it’s also the law to carry a first aid kit onboard a vessel that carries passengers. It might be useful when you are out on the sea and far away from medical attention or if you injure yourself after a fall in the boat. Be prepared for whatever injury may come your way, and don’t forget to check every so often that it is complete, up-to-date, and serviceable.

Report to authority

Trying to contact the Coast Guard (or any agency) from your boat is one of the most important things to do when in distress. As per GMDSS, you are required to carry a VHF radio. The Coast Guard can also be contacted via fax and email, so it may prove useful in any emergency situation.

Fire onboard checklist

In case fire on board, follow the below checklist:

Immediate Actions

1. Ask for help and start fire alarm.

2. Shut off fans, dampers, skylights, fire doors, other openings, stairways, ramps etc.

3. Locate the fire.

4. Prepare for fire fighting.

5. In port – call the fire brigade.

6. Prepare life-saving equipment.

7. Keep the radio station a ‘stand-by’ – with current and updated position available.

8. Show applicable signal from the International Code of Signals. (VHF could also be used to indicate distress).

9. Check that nobody is missing and trapped.

10. Fix time and position.

1. Seal off (gas-tight) the affected area.

2. Search the affected area.

3. Decide on the best way to fight the fire based on all available information and knowledge of contents of the

4. affected area and its surrounding’ information on hazardous and dangerous goods onboard.

5. Fight the fire (together with the fire brigade).

Pay attention to: Risks for explosion and spread of fire – onboard and ashore. And, Loss of stability when using water.

6. Water shall not be used on electrical equipment.

7. That use of CO2 could require up to 8–10 days. Keep the area shut off.

8. Towage/salvage could be needed.

9. Report to the authority by the fastest and most efficient way. Keep them continuously informed.

10. Continuously watch and measure the temperature in the affected area and its surroundings.


If your boat motor catches fire, you may be tempted to do more than just call for help. But don’t get too excited and jump in the water or try to put out the flames yourself. There are a number of steps that should be taken before any other action is considered. Always follow these steps if your engine has caught fire on the water. Your safety comes first. What would you have done if this happened? Share with us by leaving a comment below.

Leave a Comment