Spotlight on fire and carbon monoxide risks on boats

Tue 28 May, 2019

Picture of narrowboat and fire engine

Firefighters and the Milton Keynes-based Boat Safety Scheme are joining forces again to urge the boating community to be 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. This can be caused, among other things, by exhaust emissions of inboard and portable petrol engines and generators, or problems with solid fuel stoves including flue pipes.

With hundreds of thousands of motorised boats in the UK, and a growth in boating on many waterways in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, firefighters are urging the boating population - particularly people who live on their boats - to check that their boats are equipped with the correct safety equipment, including smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

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.

Phill Mould, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, said: “Boat fires can have devastating consequences when they break out. Boats are often in remote locations with difficult access, and this can result in firefighters taking longer to arrive at an incident, allowing a fire to destroy a boat and everything onboard.

“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.

“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.

"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.

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

Boat Safety Scheme manager Graham Watts said: “It’s time everyone in the boating community said ‘no more avoidable tragedies’. Being protected by suitable smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be viewed as a normal part of boat ownership.”

Since 1 April 2019, a carbon monoxide alarm must be fitted on all boats in scope of the Boat Safety Scheme requirements that have accommodation spaces. Boat Safety Scheme certification will not be issued to boats without suitable alarms.

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 |  Boat Safety Scheme carbon monoxide requirements 2019