Who Is Responsible For Explaining Fire Safety Procedures To Passengers On A Boat? 

It sometimes seems that briefing the passengers on safety protocols on a recreational boat is overly dramatic and unnecessary. 

The reality is that a fire on a small craft can take hold in seconds, and unless all parties are properly trained and compliant, the results may not be great.

Most small boat fires are attributed to inadequate electrical wiring, with 26% of cases caused by this reason. 

Boats present an entirely different fire risk due to the enclosed spaces, small areas, wind, gas cylinders, engines, and lack of an obvious escape route.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s covered in this article:

At a Glance:

1️⃣ The owner and captain are responsible for preventing, detecting, and responding to fires on a boat.

2️⃣ The owner and captain are responsible for the safety of the passengers and crew on the boat.

3️⃣ The crew must be trained and prepared to follow the captain’s instructions.

4️⃣ Passengers have a duty of care to not cause a fire and must be briefed properly before the voyage.

📜 Regulations And Requirements

Get to know the requirements for fire extinguishers because they are a crucial part of fire safety procedures.

The United States Coast Guard regulations relating to boat fire safety are summarized in the list below.

Before understanding the procedures of fire precautions, crew and passengers need to be aware of factors that may cause boat fires to recognize and prevent them as quickly as possible.

Because of this, before sailing, inspect anything that might catch fire. If you are well-versed in fire protection and measures, you should share your information with your passengers before departing the port.

When you understand the above, you can then determine what the best fire extinguisher is for your boat.

What Recreational Boats Require Fire Extinguishers?

The vessels required to carry “Marine Type – USCG Approved” fire extinguishers are as follows. Here’s a List Of Fire Safety Precautions

  • All recreational boats with an installed gas tank must carry fire extinguishers.
  • If the engines are installed in an enclosed compartment, fire extinguishers must be installed.
  • If the boat has a double bottom that is not filled with flotation material and can trap fumes, it must have a fire extinguisher.
  • It must have an extinguisher if the boat has an enclosed living space.
  • If combustible or flammable materials are stowed in an enclosed area or compartment, fire extinguishers must be installed.

If the boat is under 26 feet long and uses an outboard motor with a portable gas tank, it does NOT require a fire extinguisher.

Responsibilities Of (USCG) Boat Owners/Captains

The common law duty of boat owners and captains makes them ultimately responsible for fire safety on a boat.

The Merchant Marine Act (June 1920) gives boat crews and their families the right to hold the boat owners and captains responsible for death or injury on board a boat.

This makes the owners and captains legally responsible for the boat’s safety as well as all of the occupants (passengers and crew).

The owners are fully responsible for ensuring that all the relevant rules and regulations are complied with.

As the operator of a vessel, you are responsible for ensuring that your passengers understand basic safety practices and laws.

The owner’s and captain’s responsibility extends to the following:

✔️ There are adequate fire prevention systems.

✔️ There are adequate fire detection systems.

✔️ Responsibility for providing crew members with onboard fire education, training in fire protocol, and safety steps to be employed.

✔️ Ensure that all the appointed crew maintain and comply with a watch system.

✔️ To ensure the passengers are given a safety briefing at the voyage’s commencement.

✔️ Having a handout safety brochure that can be provided to the passengers after the safety briefing is a good practice

🧑‍🚒 Responsibilities Of Crew Members

The crews must carry out the lawful commands given by the owner or captain.

All crew must be trained in all protocols relating to fire prevention.

Showing passengers where life safety equipment is stored, including lifejackets, PFDs, fire extinguishers, visual signals, first aid kits, water pumps, life rafts, and more.

The selected crew must be trained in firefighting methods, techniques and must know the location of all fire extinguishers and how to operate them.

The captain may delegate the passenger briefing to selected and suitably trained crew members.

The crew must understand their responsibilities in the event of a fire in order to protect the passengers and, where possible, keep them away from the fire.

Crew must assist passengers in donning life jackets and guide them in the event of the abandon ship command being given.

🧯 Responsibilities Of Passengers

Passengers owe the boat owners, captain, and crew a common law duty of care.

This requires them to not place the vessel in harm’s way by starting a fire (for example, not to dispose of a cigarette butt in the engine bay!)

That said, the main duty of care falls on the shoulders of the owner and captain.

This duty extends to the passenger’s right to be kept safe while on the boat.

Apart from the duties to prevent, detect and fight a fire, another one is to inform new passengers of the risks and the safety precautions they must follow.

This briefing could follow the format listed below.

1️⃣ The passenger should be shown where they must assemble on the boat during a fire.

2️⃣ The passengers should be briefed on how to respond to a fire or man overboard incident.

3️⃣ The passengers should also be briefed on the dangerous areas of the boat that they must not enter (e.g., the engine compartment).

4️⃣ All passengers must receive a correctly sized lifejacket that is certified.

5️⃣ Passengers must be shown how to put it on and fasten it, as well as an explanation of its importance.

6️⃣ Passengers should be briefed on escape routes and emergency exits.

7️⃣ Passengers must be briefed on the location of all lifejackets, fire extinguishers, EPIRBs, First Aid Kits, Flares or other visual distress devices, the ditch bag, water pumps, and, if required, the bailers.

🎱 A drill should be conducted demonstrating what passengers need to do in the event of a fire. 

📝 Importance Of Following Fire Safety Instructions And Procedures Communication And Emergency Preparedness

When a fire takes hold of a small boat, it happens quickly, and there is little time to respond.

Depending on the location of the fire and its severity, an abandon ship call is often the only realistic response to a serious fire.

This means that it is essential that all of the occupants on a boat are briefed on what is required of them, and when instructed by the captain or crew to respond, they do so quickly without an argument.

Passengers must receive a demonstration of the safety requirements, including how to don the life jackets, find a fire extinguisher, safeguard the ditch bag, and abandon ship if called to do so.

🔑 Key Takeaways

Fire prevention, detection, and subsequent response are the responsibility of the owner and captain. Here’s a quick recap:

1️⃣ The passengers must be briefed on their responsibilities.

2️⃣ Passengers must be briefed on the actions they must take in an emergency event.

3️⃣ The owner and captain are responsible for properly training the crew.

4️⃣ The boat must comply with the US Coast Guard requirements regarding the number of fire extinguishers on board.

All of the above presupposes that there is an emergency plan in place.

One of the most important parts of any plan is to have a ditch bag stocked with all of the emergency equipment and supplies that you will need.

Next, I’d recommend reviewing our boat inspection checklist to ensure all fire safety procedures are in place on your vessel.

These best practices for storing fire extinguishers are a key part of fire safety procedures.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.