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The Ultimate Guide for Fighting Ship Fires Successfully

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According to research, fire outbreaks are among the most frequent causes of accidents at sea, in parallel with grounding, collision, and grazing contact. Every seventh fire outbreak culminated in the loss of life, and it was established that the most frequent outcome from a fire was damage to the vessel and inability to proceed with the journey.

Fires don’t cause themselves. At sea, you can’t really blame the environment for causing fire. So who is to blame? You’re probably guessing already - people. Not by malice, usually, but by error. Reports suggest that “human error is a significant part of 70% to 80% of all accidents”. That’s quite a few accidents that could have been prevented through training and preparation.

Know Your Fire Classes

To fight the fire, you need to know your types of fires, as each has its own prevention strategies as well as firefighting tactics. The types of fires on ships are classified by the type of fuel involved.

Class A (General fire) - Common materials such as wood, paper and cloths are the main fuel for the flames.

Class B (Oil fire) - The fire is fueled by flammable liquids like gasoline, oil and grease.

Class C (Electrical fire) - Electrical cables, electrical motors and switchboards can be the source of the ignition, but can also fuel and spread the fire.

Class D (Chemical fire) - Many of the chemicals often kelp onboard are flammable or combusting. Cleaning supplies, active metals and other chemicals on your ship are actually fuel in disguise.

Ship Fire Prevention

The best way to fight a fire is to prevent one, obviously. You should address the prevention of each type of fire according to the classifications above.

Class A (General Fire):

  • Good housekeeping can prevent waste and grease from becoming fuel for a fire.

  • When possible, use fire-retardant or fire-resistant materials in the construction or renovation of your ship.

  • Define and enforce a fire safety policy for employees and guests on your ship. For example, smoking can be allowed only in specific areas of the ship.

  • Restrict access to unused areas of the ship and keep those locked.

Class B (Oil Fire):

  • Ensure proper storage of fuels and oil products.

  • Maintain your fuel handling systems in top shape and avoid leakages of any kind.

  • Thoroughly train the personnel handling fuel systems and demand all fuel system operation is done under supervision.

  • Galley fires are often fueled by grease, and some even give it its own classification of Class K.

Class C (Electrical Fire):

  • Use only properly maintained electrical equipment, and perform regular checks on electrical systems to discover potential fire hazards.

  • Ensure proper electrical insulation, avoiding naked wires as much as possible.

  • Where necessary, use weatherproof or explosion proof fittings.

  • Switch off electrical equipment (like fans, lights and air conditioners) when not in use. It’s not only safer, but also less wasteful.

  • Avoid prolonged use or overload of equipment, especially if it becomes hot when used.

Class D (Chemical Fire):

  • Carefully examine the storage and transport instructions of all chemicals that board your ship.

  • Make sure your team follows these instructions to the letter, ensuring proper safety measures are taken.

Fire Detection

You don’t need to fight a fire that never started, so obviously, prevention is the most important part. But, accidents happen. With fire, time is of great importance as fires can spread quickly, limiting your ability to control them. This is where fire detection systems come in, their goal is to ensure you can respond as quickly as possible to a fire, before it gets worse.

There are two types of fire detection - manual and automated.


It’s a bit more than sniffing the air and going “Does that smell like smoke?” to yourself. Manual fire detection means conducting round-the-clock checkups in the engine room and other areas where there isn’t constant supervision, but fire is a danger. If your vessel is particularly big, or you can’t afford to dedicate crewmembers to perform these checkups, you can use CCTV to observe these areas from the bridge.


Using fire and heat detection systems on your vessel is very important and demanded by SOLAS regulations. The systems include smoke, heat and CO2 detectors, connected to a fire alarm switchboard that goes off when it needs to. In some cases, these automated systems will also activate sprinklers or other fire fighting systems without human intervention. However, the main role of fire detection systems is to alert the people onboard that there is a fire. So you probably want to verify these systems work.

You can’t rely fully on automated systems, even when they do function as expected. If the fire alarm circuit is the first to burn in a fire, you still need to make sure you get alerted in time. So balance manual and automated fire detection. You can’t be too careful when it comes to fire.

Train on Boat

To comply with IMO regulations, your ship will have to meet pre-defined standards for fire safety. These standards demand that you set clear protocols for dealing with fires, the locations of fire extinguishers and more. Failing to comply with these regulations will not only endanger your crew and vessel, but can also get you into legal problems in case of an accident. By the way, you can easily create your own fire safety training module.

Neither you or your crewmates are about to become firefighters. Nor should you develop a phobia of ship fires. You should, however, ensure your crew is not making igniting mistakes, and provide them with information and training instructing them what to do in case of a fire. By taking preventative measures and training your team to comply with fire safety protocols and procedures, you can save lives and prevent losses to your shipping business.


Useful article for beginner...
Think 3 times before starting..
Safety comes first..
Posted by: Burcin Yavru at 20/12/2016 17:45

Integrated Radio Systems are one of Europe's largest re sellers of two way radio equipment.

IRS specialise in the supply of radio equipment compliant with the new IMO regulations for firefighting requirements on board vessels.

Kindly contact us for information on the many different products we can supply.

Welcome aboard!

Steph Barnett
+44 (0)203 287 0060
Posted by: Steph Barnett( Visit ) at 21/12/2016 08:27

In my knowledge of fire classes, based on the European classification, the types are as follows:
A. solids
B. fluids
C. gases
D. iron
E. electrical

Correct me if I am wrong, but this is how we classify on board

best regards

Cornelis Noks
Posted by: Cornelis Noks at 21/12/2016 09:56


Any article which discusses fire at sea and the actions to be taken by crew is a good step in the right direction, however as a company which provides training on board in this area, we were concerned by some aspects of the content to the above article.

Para 1. The web link goes to a cutting of the research which identifies that fires occur most frequently on passenger/ car ferries that are 25 – 28 years old and thus should be carefully considered for relevance when the target audience here is particularly for yacht crew.

WIthin para 2 the article is discussing all types of accidents at sea not just fire, thus by quoting this the author is suggesting that 70% to 80% of fires are caused by human error, however there is no evidence in the link article to support this.

The author has used terms for the classes that are not commensurate with the official classes of fire. For example, stating class D is a chemical fire highlights the problem of having different classifications around the world. See below:

Combustible materials (wood, paper, fabric, refuse) – European / US and Asia / Australia – Class A

Flammable liquids - European / US and Asia / Australia – Class B

Flammable gas – European and Asia / Australia – Class C, US Class B

Flammable metals - European / US and Asia / Australia – Class D

Electrical fire – European – Not classified, US – Class C, Asia / Australia – Class E

Cooking oils and fats – European and Asia / Australia – Class F, US – Class K

In the paragraph on automated systems for detecting fire it mentions CO² detectors. We believe the author may be getting confused as the only CO² alarms generally on board are those which sound on a CO² extinguishing system just prior to it being operated.

Care needs to be given for the links in the article as two go to a website about a mobile phone app for desk-less employee’s.

Second Para under automated states “you can’t rely fully on automated systems, even when they do function as expected. If the fire alarm circuit is the first to burn in a fire”
If you have a fire that has burnt through the cable before the alarm gets a chance to sound then there is a significant problem on board. Fire alarm system cables are fire rated to protect the cable from fire.

Da Gama Maritime
Posted by: Steve Monk( Visit ) at 21/12/2016 12:28

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