What Should You Do if the Motor on Your Boat Catches Fire?

If your boat’s motor catches fire when you’re out on the water, it can be terrifying. Knowing that the fire will spread across your expensive vessel is already alarming enough, and worse yet, you might not have anywhere to go. What should you do if the motor on your boat catches fire?

You should turn off the ignition and use a fire extinguisher to attempt to put out the flames if the motor on your boat catches fire. If necessary, you may need to evacuate your boat and use life jackets to stay afloat while you get in contact with local authorities.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to respond to a boat motor fire at the moment that it happens. But if you know the proper techniques to fight the fire and stay safe, you may have a chance of saving your boat and the lives of everyone on board.

What You Should Do if Your Boat Motor Catches Fire

If your boat motor catches on fire, you’ll need to take a few immediate steps to keep safe. First, you should immediately turn off the engine, gas cylinders, and fuel supply. This will immediately cut off any fuel that might be feeding into the flames and may help reduce the severity of the fire. It will also prevent an explosion from happening.

After you’ve made sure that the engine is off and the fuel lines are closed, you need to turn the boat until the wind is blowing the flames and smoke away from the boat. This will give you and other passengers significantly more time to fight or escape, and as an added benefit, it will also reduce the possibility that someone will breathe in toxic fumes.

Next, you need to make a distress call. If you have a cell phone, you should also call an emergency line or the Coast Guard to tell them where you are, what kind of boat you have, and how many passengers are on board. If you have any devices like a radio or flare on hand, you should also use these to call for help.

Finally, you’re going to need to decide if you want to fight or run from the fire. You need to honestly ask yourself whether fighting the flames is feasible. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is the fire small and confined to one area?
  • Do you have an escape route that is far away from where the fire will immediately spread?
  • Do you have a tri-class fire extinguisher? 
  • If you only have water to extinguish the flames, is it a Class A fire that comes from burning solids like cardboard and paper?
  • Do you have experience with using a fire extinguisher?
  • Does your fire extinguisher have a large capacity?
  • Are there other people or animals on the boat that you need to help escape?
  • Is fiberglass burning?

If the fire is small and you’re well-equipped to fight it, you can consider using your fire extinguisher to put it out. But if there is a huge hazard (like burning fiberglass) or the lives of others are in danger, you should immediately prioritize making a safe escape from the boat.

If you decide to fight the fire, use the following guidelines to use your fire extinguisher effectively:

  • Pull the pin out from between the handles of the fire extinguisher.
  • Aim the hose of the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire, ensuring that you’re around 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) away from the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher and sweep the hose from side to side, covering the entire base of the fire.

If your attempt at fighting the fire is unsuccessful, you will need to escape. Put on your life jacket as soon as possible, ensuring that it fits snugly enough that your chin and ears won’t slip through the collar.

Avoid the fire and look for the best possible route to escape the boat. If you have a life raft or other emergency supplies on hand, you should deploy them and attempt to navigate away until you are a safe distance away from the burning boat.

Remember that boat fires can cause hazardous conditions like toxic gas and explosions. You should take all precautions necessary and prioritize your life in hazardous situations.

How To Stay Safe During a Boat Fire

It’s always fun to take your boat out on the water and spend a day fishing and sightseeing. If you want to stay safe in the event of a boat motor fire, however, you need to prepare yourself long before a fire ever takes place.

As long as you make sure to take a few precautionary steps and keep up with a regular maintenance routine, you’ll be much safer if anything happens while you’re out on the water. Here are some of the best things you can do to stay safe while boating.

Equip Your Boat With Life Jackets and Safety Equipment

One of the most effective things you can do to keep yourself safe while on the water is to ensure that your boat has the right equipment. You should make sure that your boat is equipped with safety monitoring devices like smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

You should make sure that your boat has life jackets. The life jackets should fit you comfortably, without slipping past your chin or ears when the collar is raised. You should purchase legitimate life jackets from reputable sellers so that you can trust they will keep you afloat.

You should also make sure that your boat is kept in good condition. Frayed electrical wiring and poor outlet connections are some of the most common causes of Class C fires — and unless you have the right equipment, they’re almost impossible to fight off.

It’s also extremely important that you have the proper equipment to extinguish a fire on deck. According to some recent tests completed by the Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety, most inexperienced fire extinguisher users were unable to extinguish a fire.

Worse yet, the extinguishers are often placed in inconvenient locations that waste precious time and allow the fire to spread. If you want to stay safe if your boat catches on fire, you need to be prepared. You should equip your boat with several tri-class fire extinguishers and place them in easy-to-reach locations.

Keep Up With Regular Maintenance

If you want to prevent your boat’s motor from catching on fire, you should prioritize maintaining your boat on a regular schedule. Using the service schedule found in your boat owner’s manual, you should make sure that your boat receives maintenance like oil changes, filter changes, and condition checks at the recommended frequency.

You will also need to keep up with other good practices to keep your boat’s motor in good condition. If your boat will ever be in below-freezing conditions, you will need to have your boat winterized by technicians. You should always fuel your boat with fresh gasoline and use a fuel stabilizer additive if fuel will be left in the boat for over 10 days.

You will also need to maintain your fire extinguishers regularly. Here are some of the tips that you should follow to make sure you’ll be well-equipped if a fire ever occurs.

  • If you ever use a fire extinguisher, immediately replace it.
  • Don’t ever test a fire extinguisher by using it, because this may result in the extinguisher losing pressure and becoming ineffective.
  • Inspect your fire extinguishers every month to make sure that there are no signs of damage or corrosion.
  • Weigh your fire extinguishers on an annual basis to confirm that they are charged.
  • Turn your fire extinguishers upside down and shake them several times a year to ensure that sediment hasn’t collected at the bottom of the canister.
  • Hire a fire extinguisher technician to perform maintenance on an annual basis. 

Stay Sober, Aware, and Attentive

You should never get excessively drunk, impaired, or distracted while you’re boating. Many deaths during boating accidents are the result of distracted or impaired boat driving. 

Take a look at our article on: How To Drive A Boat (Understanding The Mechanics)

You’re also going to need your full level of judgment unimpaired if you want to have any chance of successfully fighting off the fire. Before you take any action to extinguish the fire, you’ll need to determine what class of fire it is: (A) solid material fire, (B) liquid fire, or (C) electrical fire.

Class A fire originates from combustible solids like paper or fiberglass. Class B fire originates from combustible liquids like alcohol or gasoline. Class C fire originates from electrical equipment. If the electricity is turned off, a Class C fire will become a Class A/B fire.

Once you know the class of the fire, you will need to use the correct type of extinguisher. I recommend equipping your boat with multiple tri-class fire extinguishers because this will allow you to quickly respond to any type of fire without wasting time on scrutiny.

An engine fire is a Class B fire. As long as you have a tri-class fire extinguisher, you will be well-equipped to fight an engine fire. But remember: if the fire has spread too far to fight, you need to prioritize your life.

Final Thoughts

It can be extremely frightening if a fire breaks out while you’re on your boat — especially if you’re far out in the water. The most important thing you should do is prevent a motor fire from breaking out at all by keeping up with proper maintenance techniques. In the event of a fire, using the proper extinguishing techniques and getting yourself to safety can turn a catastrophic event into a manageable emergency.

Project “Fire Safety” Boating

Check out our article on: Where Is The Best Place To Store A Fire Extinguisher On A Boat?

Photo of author

Project Boating Editorial Staff

My name is Brad Visser the chief editor and owner of Projectboaing.com. We have an amazing team of writers that contribute to our website. This team is passionate about boating and have years of experience not only in boats, but in writing helpful, informative articles to answer questions you may have.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.