Sadly, fires on boats have killed 30 people over the last 20 years but there is plenty of useful fire safety and prevention advice available for sailors and boaters, particularly regarding the fitting and use of smoke alarms.

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has published a Fact File ‘Smoke Alarms for Boats’  with information on how smoke alarms should be used in boats. The information is suitable for boats up to 24 metres used for leisure, hire or residential purposes. Specific fire risks in boats include the carriage of fuel, flammable gases in heating, ventilation and air conditioning duct inlets and the spillage or release of hazardous substances. Fires may also result from unattended cooking; the overheating of electronic and electrical appliances; faulty electrical wiring; smoking, matches and lighters and flammable liquids and aerosols.

The BSS (Boat Safety Scheme) leaflet ‘Fire Safety on Boats’ also provides good advice on how to prevent fire hazards on board. It recommends fitting Optical sensor smoke alarms with hush buttons and ‘sealed for life’ batteries as these photoelectric alarms are less likely to go off accidentally, and so are best for confined environments such as a boat.  They are also much less prone to false alarms from cooking fumes,  plus the hush button allows rapid silencing should a nuisance alarm occur.

How many smoke alarms should you fit?

The more suitable and routinely tested smoke alarms you have installed on your boat, the more confident you can be about the early detection of a developing fire and hearing an alarm should this happen. If you have more than one alarm, it is worth considering either wired or wireless RF interconnecting alarms such as the Firechief Cavius RF 5 Year Battery Optical Smoke Alarm.

No areas of the boat which need to be protected should be further than 5m from an alarm. In the case of large vessels, such as some narrowboats, the dimensions of the vessel may mean slower reaction time for a single alarm and so you may need to install multiple units for maximum protection.

 Where to fit smoke alarms?

The ideal place is along the centreline of the boat in the same cabin space where a heater or cooker is in use, but not too close to any appliance. The smoke alarm should also be mounted on a well-insulated part of the ceiling to avoid cold spots.  Try to avoid putting it any closer than 300mm to any vertical surface but if headroom is a problem and you really have no choice, mount it on a wall between 150mm – 300mm below the ceiling height, but not directly above a ventilator or opening window.

Make sure smoke alarms are easy to reach so you can test them routinely and can press the hush button with ease. Always put them where you will be able to hear them, particularly when you are asleep or when doors are closed.  A good tip is to try testing the smoke alarm in place before you actually fix it in position.

Smoke alarms should be installed as per the manufacturer’s instructions as far as is practical but, in any case, should not be fixed in the following places:

  • in the galley or bathroom, where it could be accidentally triggered by cooking fumes or steam
  • where you can’t hear it while you’re asleep
  • too close to a cooker or heater where the alarm will produce false alarms
  • flush to the ceiling and try to avoid positioning the alarm close to any roof ventilator

 The importance of testing

Smoke alarms should be tested regularly –  at least once a month or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions, while the boat is in use and, also after periods when the boat has not been used.

However, you should expect to replace either the alarm or its battery sooner than the manufacturers recommended lifespan since when it is sited on a boat, the damp atmosphere in the cabin may affect it.

Boats present a challenging environment for smoke alarms particularly with high humidity, temperature extremes, the potential for jolts and the regular vibration from some boat engines, so to give you the most confidence in its reliability, choose an alarm which complies with BS EN 14604:2005 and check for a British Standard ‘Kitemark’; an LPCB ‘Horseshoe’ mark or the square VdS symbol as this means it has been certified by an independent third-party test laboratory.

Here at Firechief, we want you to feel safe. Our mission is to work hard every day to protect lives and property from fire by providing a range of fire safety products that can be trusted to perform when the heat is on.

The Firechief range includes high-performance fire extinguishers, fire blankets, first aid kits, lithium-ion fire extinguishers and Firechief CAVIUS Alarms. For more information, call us on +44 (0)330 999 0019 or email sales@firechiefglobal.com.