Fire Kills


Fire can spread quickly on a boat but it’s the toxic smoke that will kill you first.

Fire can spread quickly on a boat, even though you are surrounded by water.

Whilst fire is unlikely to start on a boat that is well maintained to minimum safety standards, it is a grave concern to boaters who can be caught unawares or in a situation where escape is difficult.

Boat Fire Safety Week is a joint Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) ‘Fire Kills’ campaign/Boat Safety Scheme initiative that happens each Whitsun week.

It usually involves about 30 Fire and Rescue Services nationally and at least six of these have a coast border - including the busiest, London Fire Brigade with its tidal Thames interface.

‘Fire Kills’ events generally take place at marinas, harbours and slipways and involve fireman promoting the messages in the Fire Safety on Boats leaflet.

Look out for “Fire Kills” events in your local area this coming Whitsun weekend and learn how to keep you, your crew and your boat safe.

Fire Safety on Boats

The Fire Safety on Boats leaflet produced by the DCLG with the Boat Safety Scheme is packed with plenty of information that encourages us all to think of the less obvious dangers that we may face when we are out having fun on our boats and it provides tips and advice on how to protect our boat and crew should fire break out.

Fatal effects of toxic smoke

Furthermore, it reminds boaters not only about the dangers of a fire on board, but also the fatal effects of toxic smoke.

Fire prevention is always the best protection from fire, but a smoke alarm can be your next line of defence.

Fires happen when you least expect them and will put you in most danger particularly when you are sleeping aboard.

A routinely checked smoke alarm of the right type, placed where you can hear it, can warn you very quickly if there is a fire and give you time to escape.

Boats are often full of combustible materials and highly flammable fuels, which mean that fires can spread rapidly.

The real killers are the smoke and toxic fumes given off from the combustible materials and they kill very rapidly. If you are asleep, your survival will almost certainly depend upon being woken very quickly before the smoke and fumes reach you, your family or crew.

There are two main types of detector (or sensor) on smoke alarms, - optical and ionisation.

Optical alarms

Optical alarms are the best choice for boats. They are more effective at detecting slow-burning fires (such as smouldering wood, burning foam-filled furniture, overheated wiring etc). Optical alarms are more expensive, but are also less likely to go off accidentally, and so are best for confined environments, a feature of most boats.

Ionisation alarms

Ionisation alarms are more readily available in high street shops. They use a radio-active isotope and are very sensitive to flaming fires, (ones that burn fiercely such as chip-pan fires) and they will detect this type of fire before the smoke gets too thick. These days there are units available with the two types of sensor in the same housing.

Ultimately the message is really quite simple: fit a smoke alarm on boats with accommodation and test it regularly.

With thanks to the Boat Safety Scheme

‘Fire Kills’ is the national campaign run by the DCLG Fire Kills office and is designed to educate people about fire safety and to help them prevent fires.

 Article Published by RYA: April 25, 2013