In Case of Boat Motor Fire: Essential Steps to Stay Safe

if a boat motor catches fire

The water is the last place you think of when it comes to fire danger. One minute there is a cool mist hitting your face, and the next, there is a blaze in the middle of the bay.

Most importantly, you must stay calm. Freaking out (which is totally reasonable) will only make matters worse (just like all water safety).

Let’s take a closer look at what you should do if your boat motor catches fire. 

What causes a boat to catch on fire?

You’d think there weren’t a ton of ways a boat could catch fire. But, alas, they happen. The good news is that most are preventable.

  • Electrical issues
  • Fuel leaks
  • Fires caused by smoking
  • Igniting flammable materials
  • Space heaters
  • Poor upkeep and maintenance
  • Cooking onboard

4+ Things You Should Do If A Boat Motor Catches Fire


If you’re on fire right this second, throw on your personal flotation device (PFD) and turn off the boat. But if you’re here to prepare for the unexpected, you’re in the right spot.

Personal Flotation Device Musts

Depending on the boat and whatnot, you might not wear your PFD while cruising along a waterway.  

At the first signs of trouble, put on your floating device. When people panic, they can forget things, including how to swim.

Boat safety also means you have enough PFDs for everyone on the boat.

Get Out of the Wind’s Way

The wind is the natural fuel for any fire. It becomes the next level when it’s a boat fire in the middle of the water. 

You will want to move into the wind when the fire is in the rear of the boat and move with the wind if it’s in the front (and use a respirator if available).

Cut the Fuel Supply to the Engine

To save you and possibly the boat, you need to cut the fuel supply to the boat’s engine. The engine circulates fuel which will only continue to add to the growing flames. The sooner you stop it, the better.


  • If the switch is in the engine bay, it may be unsafe to shut the fuel off.
  • Don’t open the engine compartment because it will provide the fire with more oxygen to continue to grow.
  • Don’t turn on the ventilation fan. You are trying to suffocate the fire, and the fan will feed it.

Extinguishers Are Handy In This Situation

Ideally, you have at least one type of fire extinguisher on board the boat. 

It’s up to you to try and put the fire out because who knows when help will arrive. Whatever system you use, follow the proper instructions and procedure.

What size boat requires a fire extinguisher?

  • All boats under 26 feet must have at least one BI Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher.
  • 26 to 40 feet – two BI or one BII fire extinguisher.
  • 40 to  65 feet – three BI or one BII plus one BI extinguisher.


Under no circumstance use water or flammable fluids (gasoline, oil) to attempt to put out a fire. Using water works the same way as a grease fire; it acts like fuel rather than a cure.

When to Leave the Boat Behind

If you or your passengers are in extreme danger, leave the boat. Jump off of it and swim away. 

A water vessel holds tons of fuel, and if the fire rages on, it increases the chances that it will explode.

Boat Fire Prevention

Most boat fires are entirely preventable. But, it is easy to forget certain things when it comes to maintenance. Let’s do a quick refresher.

  • Test the ventilation systems every once in a while.
  • Make sure the boat’s bilges are clean. Regular patience with the fuel system and the engine is vital.
  • You should have a fire action plan. Make copies and put them up in important places on the vessel.
  • All big boats need to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. And you should test them when you perform maintenance.
  • Gas vapor detectors will recognize particular dangers before you do.
  • When sleeping or vacating the boat, shut off the valves on the LPG cylinders.
  • Turn off all appliances on board the ship when not in use.
  • If you smoke on a boat, use metal ashtrays and fully extinguish all butts.
  • An escape plan should be included in your fire action plan

FAQs about Boats & Fire

How often do boats catch fire?

According to US Coast Guard Data, in 2018, there were 150 boat fatalities and 300 injuries due to boat fires and explosions. In relation to how many people operate boats regularly, they are rare, and most are totally avoidable.

Can a boat engine fire be put out with water?

Absolutely not. Your fire extinguishing systems will be what you use to attempt to put out the boat motor fire. Water will give the fire something to work with rather than kill it.

The only time you could use water on a fire on board a boat is in the case of small class A fires (paper, plastic).

What is the most common way a boat catches on fire?

Electrical issues are easily the most common reason a boat motor catches fire. Most boats are run by complicated electrical systems that can malfunction when not adequately maintained.

You will want to check on your boat’s battery, too. It needs to be as secure as possible because it can be a fire source, too.

What is the greatest cause of an explosion on a boat?

The buildup of gas fumes, especially in a confined space such as the boat’s engine, is the leading cause of boat explosions. There is little warning when a gas explosion occurs, and it typically happens when the engine is on, and people are on board.

Why are boats so flammable?

All a fire needs is a little heat, some oxygen, and fuel. Boats are highly flammable because you’re in the water, and water contains a lot of oxygen.

By Anita Brown

Anita Brown is our go-to contributor to our emergency preparedness website. Anita brings a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to the table, having weathered several awful natural disasters. Anita is currently working towards obtaining her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.