Boats with inboard petrol engines at risk of fire

7 January 2011

Owners of boats fitted with petrol inboard engines or under-floor fuel tanks must take extra care to prevent a holiday disaster.

Director, Transport Safety Regulation Brian Hemming said it’s crucial to play it safe on the River Murray this summer — and that includes ensuring your boat is safe too.

“I urge all boat owners to take extra care this summer when maintaining and operating their boats, especially when refuelling,” he said.

“The vast majority of recreational powerboats have outboard petrol engines that hang off the back of the vessel with a removable fuel tank.”

“But boats fitted with petrol inboard engines or under-floor fuel tanks are at greater risk of fire as the engine is on board the boat, making petrol vapour leaks highly dangerous.”

“The fact is petrol fumes are denser than air and can accumulate in a vessel’s bilge or in low parts of a cabin if not properly ventilated.”

“It’s important to note that petrol has a much lower flashpoint than diesel and petrol vapour ignites far more easily.”

“The fumes can easily explode if there are any ignition sources present, such as a naked flame or even an electrical spark.”

“Be safe and responsible — it only takes a few minutes to prevent a holiday disaster.”

Mr Hemming said the main risk is just after refuelling, however, fire or explosions can occur at other times and offers the following safety tips:

  •     Switch off the engine before refuelling.
  •     Turn off all potential sources of flames or sparks such as cigarettes, pilot lights and batteries.
  •     Know where the nearest spill kit is located and carry a small kit on board.
  •     Have all passengers and crew leave the vessel when refuelling.
  •     Do not overfill the tank.
  •     Clean up any fuel spill immediately.
  •     Use your sense of smell to judge if the boat is free of fumes.
  •     Only allow passengers on the vessel after the engine has started and run for several minutes.
  •     Don’t use a vacuum cleaner onboard, which can suck  petrol fumes into the electric motor.
  •     Always carry a fire extinguisher.
Boat operators are also reminded to exercise caution when the engine is running and the cover is off.

For more boat safety hints and information visit

smoke on the water  boat in flames