Safety tips for a holiday or life afloat

Wed 1 Jul, 2015

Do you live on a boat, or are you planning to spend some time on one over summer? 
If so, firefighters and the Milton Keynes-based Boat Safety Scheme are keen to make you more aware of the risks of fire and the "silent killer", carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the past 20 years, 30 boaters have been killed in boat fires in the UK and another 30 have lost their lives to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Boat Safety Scheme - a public safety initiative owned by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency - reports that the nation’s enthusiasm for boats and boating remains buoyant, with strong demand for residential berths on canals, rivers and tidal moorings.

There are more than 450,000 motorised boats in the UK, and there has been a growth in boating on many waterways in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes

Richard Priest, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, said: “Although the number of boat fires we are called to is relatively low, they can have devastating consequences when they occur. 

“Fires can spread quickly on a boat, even on water. Boats are often in remote locations with difficult access, and this means that fire and rescue services can find it hard to get close to boating incidents. On many occasions, this can result in the destruction of the boat and surrounding property.”

Even a moderate-sized boat can carry significant quantities of diesel, LPG and petrol. These fuels, combined with materials such as wood and glass-reinforced-plastic, and a number of sources of heat including engines, electrics and solid fuel stoves, pose a real risk.

Last year, the most common causes of fires on boats were electrical fires, engine space fires and solid fuel stove fires. Records show that exhaust emissions from portable generators, and problems with solid fuel stoves and flue pipes, pose the biggest carbon monoxide risks.

Richard added: “Our key messages are that you should fit suitable alarms, make an action plan so that you can escape in the event of a fire, understand the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and take extreme care when refuelling or changing gas cylinders.

“Owners should understand the risks, make regular, basic checks, and follow their engine and appliance operating guidelines.

"Our wish is to see smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms installed in all boats with overnight accommodation. Anyone in doubt about the alarms they need should contact us for a free boat safety check."

These checks offer boaters the opportunity to gain invaluable help and advice about how to identify potential problems, and what to do if fire should break out. You can book one by ringing 01296 744477or emailing

For further information about fire and carbon monoxide safety afloat, please contact the Boat Safety Scheme on 0333 202 1000 or visit

Leaflets to download: Fire Safety on Boats | Carbon Monoxide Safety on Boats 

Top tips

  • Fit smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Make sure you regularly check and maintain your boat’s fuel, gas and electrical systems.
  • Make an emergency plan with everyone on board before you set out.
  • Fit a gas and petrol vapour detector alarm in the bilge and even in the cabin space to give you early warnings of dangerous build-ups of explosive gases.
  • Check all appliances are turned off and if possible, close the valve on the LPG cylinders before you go to bed or leave the boat.
  • Keep candles, matches, lighters and other sources of flame out of reach of children. Never leave a burning candle unattended, and make sure they are put out safely.
  • If you smoke, use metal ashtrays. Make sure cigarettes are put out safely, and never smoke in bed.
  • Never leave a hot hob unattended especially when cooking with oil or fat.
  • Don’t fit curtains or fabrics over hob burners, and don’t dry tea towels or clothes over a cooker or hob.
  • Don’t fight a fire yourself. Get everyone off and wait for the fire and rescue service.