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(From a post on by a firefighter)

" Fire and Rescue Services in the UK advocate that if you have a fire, don't attempt to put it out, rather you should leave and dial 999 for the Fire and Rescue Service to deal with it. However, on a boat things are much different. For a start, you might not be able to leave and you need to become your own Fire and Rescue Service.

I would advise the following. A fire on a boat takes hold faster than in a building, and when I say faster, I mean with frightening speed. The structure is largely plastic, wood or a combination of both and apart from burning really quickly giving you literally seconds to get out, it will produce large volumes of toxic smoke in a confined space filling it within a few seconds. So? Get a smoke alarm for your boat. Yes, it will probably go off when you're cooking and I'm sure you can thing of ways to deal with that. But a smoke alarm will also give you early warning of a fire in the night when you and your family are asleep. In domestic dwellings, the Fire and Rescue Service now advocates a practise fire drill and to think about how and where you would get out.

Now the extinguisher bit. Firstly, I should say that if you get a fire on board, to my mind that's a Mayday call and if you get the chance to hit the button for call one in, or get a family / crew member to do it then so much the better. The RNLI can always turn back. However, if it goes wrong and you end up abandoning the vessel, at least they're on their way to you. It's the same as making a 999 call to the Fire and Rescue Service, the maxim being, if in doubt, call them out

Extinguisher-wise, dry powder is about the best you can get as it can be used on anything (with the exception of certain flammable metals like magnesium). Foam is only useful for a confined liquid fire such as oil so forget that. CO2 is worse as not only will it knock the fire out, in a confined space it will knock you out too! Halon replacements and Dry Powder can be used on anything. They don't have much in the way of cooling properties so once you've extinguished a fire on board, let it cool.

The three areas of likely fire on a boat are:

Engine rooms can be dealt with using powder. The powder interferes which the chemical reactions taking place within the flames and WILL put it out. Smoke and fumes will be a problem so get down low. Powder makes a mess, I agree, but it doesn't make as much of a mess as a fire. Shut off the fuel and the power and once the fire is out, you can afford to let your heartbeat slowdown and take stock.

For the galley, you are likely to get a fire involving liquid such as fat or even spirit from a spirit-burning stove. Again, powder will sort that for you. Most modern extinguishers usually work with a trigger mechanism, so when you let it go, it stops discharging. However, if you're sure, AND ONLY IF YOU'RE SURE, that the fire is out and you want to stop the extinguisher spurting powder everywhere, hold it upside down. This will allow the propellant gas (usually CO2) out and keep the powder in.

Also have a fire blanket available – hold it with your palms so as not to risk burning your hands. If you use a blanket LEAVE IT THERE – don’t be tempted to peek underneath to see if the fire is out.

In the accommodation area, the same causes of fire will be found as in domestic property. Naked flames from romantically situated candles, smokers and their materials and little darlings playing with fire. Candles are OK so long as they are situated out of the way, in a proper holder and are extinguished before going to bed. Never leave them unattended. EVER! I know of a woman whose bathroom was destroyed because she left a tealight burning on the edge of the bath. It wasn't in a holder and it burned through the plastic bath, which took hold and burned out the bathroom.

Smoking was once the highest cause of accidental fire in domestic premises in the UK at one time and in 2005, the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service dealt with 10 fatalities. 9 of these were caused by smoking materials. Fire Service advice is to put it out - right out! Little sweethearts will only play with fire if they can get hold of matches, lighters etc. Keep them out of reach.

So to deal with an accommodation fire? Powder will do the job, but so too will a bucket or bottle of water.

Shall I tell you the best way to deal with the fire risk on your boat? Prevention! Don't let it happen in the first place. Respect your LPG and its fittings, take care with the galley and the ashtrays. Get a smoke alarm and get a couple of powder extinguishers. Remember to keep one in a cockpit locker. It's no good the cabin being on fire and you can't reach the extinguisher because you've got to pass the fire to get to it.


2nd May 2011