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Inaccurate situational awareness: On board vessels

Hazard Knowledge

When the incident commander arrives at any vessel they may be required to take over or accept the responsibility for firefighting operations, from the ship's master, captain or devolved nominated representative, the owner, port authorities, a dedicated fire and rescue marine response (FRMR) team officer or a salvor.

On larger vessels, the chief engineer or their officers may also be able to help with expertise in their field. From them, and by examining the vessel plans, the incident commander should obtain details of the incident, the vessel, its cargo, the firefighting measures already implemented or planned and any relevant factors, such as the general state of the vessel's stability.

Information required will include:

  • Whether people are unaccounted for, and where they were last seen
  • Where the vessel is berthed
  • The stability of the vessel - refer to Transport: Unstable vessel
  • The location of the fire
  • The nature of the materials involved, for more information regarding construction of vessels see Construction of vessels
  • Details of any dangerous goods stowed near the fire (anything likely to explode, react violently or produce toxic gases)
  • Boundary starvation
  • Access to the fire
  • Current and predicted tidal information that may affect firefighting operations, vessel stability, access and egress
  • Whether on-board firefighting systems are operating or operable
  • Whether the main and auxiliary engines are operable
  • Whether mechanical ventilation systems are operating or operable

Ship's plans should be marked up using consistent symbols to promote intraoperability and interoperability between emergency responders, see table below:



Seat of fire/s



Smoke-logged areas



Hot spots on six sides of fire compartment



Boundary cooling and firefighting jets



Areas searched by fire teams



Primary containment boundary



Secondary containment boundary




The vessel's personnel will usually be able to assist by operating doors, pumps, valves, etc. and by acting as guides. If ventilation equipment is running when the fire and rescue service arrives, the incident commander will need to consult with the vessel's master or their engineer as to whether this should be turned off.

A standard type of abbreviated informative message should also be considered as an early first impression of the incident, such as:

  • Type of vessel
  • Name of vessel
  • Tonnage of vessel
  • Location of vessel (e.g. berthing point, jetty number, dry dock)
  • Cargo on board
  • Location and extent of fire hazard
  • Summary of resources in use including ships systems/crews

Some vessels in British territorial waters may have on-board security or anti-piracy measures including small arms.

See National Operational Guidance: Fires and firefighting

See National Operational Guidance: Incident command