Go boating – Stay safe
Avoiding Fire Afloat – Safe Use of Petrol
Petrol has been used on boats for over one
Many thousands of safe refuelling operations have been completed during this
period, but all too easily things can go wrong with tragic consequences.
Treat petrol with respect. Every year, boat fires and explosions due to the
ignition of petrol vapour cause injury and destruction. This guide explains how
to reduce the risk to you, your family and your crew by using and storing
petrol safely because…
Petrol can be a hazard. Here’s why…
… it’s very volatile – that’s to say petrol evaporates easily and quickly and gives rise to highly flammable vapours. Significant amounts of petrol vapour will be produced and released whenever petrol is transferred from one container to another or poured into a petrol tank. Spills, splashes from the pouring action and any petrol leaks will produce further vapour.
Boats are designed to keep water out of their hulls – which means they also act as good containers for any leaks or overflows of petrol or for escapes of petrol vapour. Be aware, petrol vapour is three to four times heavier than air. So it will spread rapidly in the still air of spaces, such as cabins, cockpits and bilges, building up from the lowest levels.
If this petrol vapour is ignited, the resulting flash burn may injure or kill anyone it catches. It could also start a fire that may flashback to the filler, the tank or the container with very serious consequences.
• Be careful when doing ‘hot work’ such as paint stripping, soldering .
What’s more, petrol floats on the surface of water, so spills on the water may cause fires some distance away from the source.
Prevention is better than cure – Recommended
practices that'll help keep you safe
Regular checks and timely maintenance will keep your boat and your crew safe.
Seek advice from your local boatyard.
Operate and maintain petrol engines and all components in accordance with the
manufacturer's recommendations. Particular attention should be given to the
maintenance and servicing of carburettors and fuel pumps.
Make sure any changes to the engine and fuel system are in accordance with the
most recent versions of relevant British Standards and are maintained to Boat
Safety Scheme requirements.
Replacement outboard fuel tanks should be ones approved by the manufacturer
for use with the make and model of your engine. This will provide the best
guarantee that the tank will not fail as a result of the corrosive nature of the fuel
or if it is dropped.
Check flexible hoses, tanks, cocks and vent terminals as well as filler caps, lids and
their seals regularly for signs of deterioration and leaks. Replace where necessary.
Don't allow bodge jobs! Only use components that are suitable for use with petrol
and always use a competent person to carry out work on your petrol system.
Don’t carry additional petrol on board unless it is
completely unavoidable, but if you must, reduce
the risk by…
… limiting the capacity! Don’t forget that UK law allows you only to carry
restricted amounts of spare petrol. Petrol deteriorates over time and stored fuel
can upset carburation. It may affect your engine when it’s most needed.
… using proper cans, specifically designed for petrol. Containers not designed to
carry petrol could split and leak, especially if the container is dropped or
subjected to rough treatment.
… keeping petrol containers, outboard motors and petrol generators secured in
the open air or in a fire resistant drained locker outside the cabin space.
… and never use an open container to hold or transfer petrol. For the same
reason, never use a bucket or open container to mix petrol and two-stroke oil,
add the oil to the engine’s tank before filling with petrol.
Refuelling? Remember safety first
Before refuelling your inboard fuel
tank, outboard, generator, etc.
• Stop the engine.
• Turn off all cooking, heating and lighting appliances and
extinguish all other naked flames.
• Turn off ignition systems on all appliances.
• Switch off your mobile phone.
And whilst refuelling remember
• Do not smoke or allow anyone else to smoke anywhere
nearby or anywhere that petrol vapour could reach.
• Don’t touch electric switches.
• Never be tempted to use your mobile phone, keep it safe in
your pocket or bag.
• Never allow children to handle petrol and keep them well
away from refuelling activities.
And then after refuelling…
… check for and wipe up any spills or overflows straightaway.
Dispose of the wipe carefully – remember it will give off
vapour for some time.
… if you smell petrol vapour, ventilate the boat. Open doors
and windows and raise deck boards until the air is clear
throughout the cabin space and bilges before you start the
engine or use before naked lights again.
… if fitted, run the bilge blower system according to the
… tightly secure the filler cap.
Stay safe when filling fixed, inboard
Routinely keep your family or crew off the boat during the
Make sure you have closed the fuel cock between the petrol
tank and the engine.
Introduce a physical barrier to vapour entering the hull by
closing all hatches, doors and windows and raising the
Make sure you use the correct filler point and avoid
overfilling by carefully checking the amount of fuel you
need with a dipstick or gauge.
Stay safe when refuelling portable
fuel tanks, outboard engines,
Remove the outboard tank, generator or container ashore
for filling, ideally at least four metres (13 feet) away from
any opening into the boat, or any other enclosed space,
On hot sunny days or where the container is warmer than
the surrounding air, more petrol vapour may be released
under pressure when you undo the cap or seal. Consider
protecting your boat from stray vapours as above.
Avoid spills by using the right size and design of funnel or
Petrol can be a hazard, but it’s not the only one…
… you can also apply much of the advice in this leaflet to the use of other
flammable liquids on board such as diesel, paraffin, paint, solvents etc.
Caravan LPG refrigerators on boats with petrol engines…
… have caused numerous explosions when the low-level permanent flame of the
fridge burner ignited stray vapours. So don’t risk using one! Choose only roomsealed
refrigerators, which are suitable for marine use.