What is a Fireboat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A fireboat is a watercraft which is designed to be used in firefighting. Fireboats can deal with fires on board ships and near shore, and they can perform other tasks such as water rescue operations and rapid response to the release of pollutants into the ocean. Most major ports have a fleet of fireboats which handles firefighting needs on the water.

Fireboats are often stationed near busy slipways and harbors so as to provide a quick response time in the event of a maritime fire.
Fireboats are often stationed near busy slipways and harbors so as to provide a quick response time in the event of a maritime fire.

Like other types of firefighting apparatus, a fireboat is equipped with pumps, hoses, and nozzles which can be used to deliver water to the site of a fire. One of the major advantages of a fireboat is that it has an endless supply of water immediately to hand, and does not need to be connected to a tanker or a fire hydrant. Their pumps are capable of pushing out a significant volume of water, and they can usually shoot water high into the air to reach up a ship's hull or to completely cover a warehouse or similar facility on shore. Most fireboats are equipped with multiple hoses which can provide coverage in all directions.

Fires in ports are often handled by fireboats, and fireboats can also assist on-shore firefighters. When a city's water supplies become compromised, for example, a fireboat may be called upon to pump water to help firefighters cope with a fire. Some fireboats are also equipped with icebreaking capabilities and they can assist in clearing waterways in the winter in addition to responding to fires. Fireboats may also have facilities for emergency responders like doctors and paramedics, and they can be used to transport personnel to the site of an emergency or to assist with evacuations.

Civilians often see fireboats at events held in port cities. Fireboats may ceremonially escort visiting ships and fleets into harbor, often with their pumping skills on full display, and they can also participate in ceremonial processions of fleets and ships. Some fire crews also periodically exhibit their fireboats and other aquatic rescue and emergency response equipment as part of their community outreach programs, and they may even offer civilians tours of fireboats so that people can see what it's like to work on a fireboat.

The budget for fireboats and crews is usually part of a city or port's fire department. Some shipyards also retain a fleet of fireboats and first responders to supplement the emergency crews provided by government officials. As with other emergency responders, fireboats will respond to all emergencies in which their assistance is required.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@StarJo - I saw some fireboats putting on a show while I was vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico, and the ones I saw were pretty big. They looked like big ships with all their operational equipment on board.

Yes, their decks were all red. They also had “fire rescue” printed on their sides.

What was awesome was how far and forcefully they could shoot water. The boats had all their nozzles operating at once, and it looked like water tornados were emanating from the fireboats.

When they all came close together at the end of the display and shot out water at full capacity, they looked like those fountains that people put in the middle of their ponds that shoot water high up into the air. Of course, the fireboat spray was much more dramatic than a simple fountain.


What do fireboats look like? I know that the article says they have firefighting apparatus attached, but does this mean that they have to be big to accommodate it all?

Also, do they have any distinguishing colors or marks? I wonder if they are red like fire trucks on land. I would think that fireboats would share a common trait so that people could easily identify them on the water.


@lighth0se33 - Though it might seem strange, salt water is an excellent fire extinguisher. I took a fire safety course a few years ago, and the men at the volunteer fire department mentioned how good salt is for this purpose.

They said that those fire extinguishers most of us keep at home have sodium chloride in them, which is basically salt. They informed us that salt sucks the oxygen and heat out of a fire.

They even told us that if we didn’t have water nearby when a grease fire broke out on a stove, we could just smother it with table salt. We could take the lid off the shaker and just pour it all over the fire.

So, fireboats that operate in sea water actually have an extra advantage over those operating on rivers and lakes. I would imagine the fires they fight get extinguished even faster.


So, is it possible to use salt water to put out a fire? There are so many things that you can’t do with salt water that you can accomplish with fresh water, so I never thought about using ocean water to extinguish flames.

It almost seems like all that salt in sea water would fan the flames even more. However, if fireboats are used to put out ship fires and oil rig fires, then they must be using ocean water.


I have never seen a fireboat in action, but imagine it would be an impressive thing to witness.

I live in New York, and remember hearing on the news awhile back that the Marine division of the fire department was going to get some new fireboats.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, at one point, the fireboats were the only source of water available.

These fireboats also have the capacity to pump 50,000 gallons of water per minute. Even if you only have one fireboat, that is a lot of water in a short amount of time.


I can see how having access to fireboats in port cities would be very advantageous. The best thing is you wouldn't have to worry about running out of water. All the water you would need to fight the fire would be right there without the fear of running out.

Because of this, you also might not need as many fireboats as you would firetrucks in a similar situation.

In most situations, you probably wouldn't have to wait as long for a fireboat to show up as they would already be there.

If I lived in a port city, I think I would feel safe knowing there were fireboats ready at any time to fight a fire.


Fireboats sounds pretty versatile. They're equipped to put out fires, rescue people, and contain pollutants? I imagine the training to work on a fireboat is probably different than training for firefighters who work on regular fire trucks.

After all, most fire trucks don't deal with containing pollutants. And I imagine a water rescue is probably a lot different than rescuing someone from a situation on land. I'm sure fire fighters who work on fireboats have to know how to swim, for one thing!


@JaneAir - I'm sure they were there and you just didn't notice them. After all, people tend to overlook things that are right under their nose. That's probably why no one ever visits the tourist sites in their own hometown!

I think it's pretty neat that fireboats can use the water from the harbor they're in to fight the fire. I imagine it would be pretty difficult to carry around enough water on a boat to fight a fire, so it's cool they make use of the resources at their disposal.

However, some harbors have really dirty water. I definitely don't envy whoever has to clean up a boat after it's been rescued by a fireboat!

You know, I used to live right near a harbor, and I don't remember ever once seeing a fireboat firefighter. Or even a fireboat just sitting in the harbor!

Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, because I imagine all harbors have some kind of fireboat. Also, I never remember hearing about any fires on the water while I lived there either. Maybe if I had witnessed some kind of crisis I would have seen a fireboat in action!

That being said, fireboats sound pretty cool and useful. After all, a firetruck can't get to a boat that's on fire, but a fireboat sure can.


One of the most important functions of fireboats is responding to fires on oil drilling rigs. These fires can get out of control very quickly and the effect they have on the drilling site and the environment can be huge. Without the aid of fireboats these fires could burn out of control causing severe loss of life and resources.


I think it would be fun to have a fire boat just for recreational use. Imagine is you had a solid multi purpose boat that also had huge endless water guns built on to it. You would be the king of the water.


Are there dedicated fireboat firefighters or do they use normal firefighters who just have additional training? I guess it would depend on how often fires break out on the water. If it is rare it seems like those guys would spend a lot of time sitting around the firehouse, or maybe fire pier is more appropriate.

At the same time I'm sure that there are a number of specialized techniques for fighting a fire on water compared to land. Some ships carry huge loads of fuel and there is the real risk for a huge explosion that completely unsettles the water. That takes a certain special kind of bravery.


I lived on the coast growing up close to a pretty large harbor and I have a few distinct memories of fires breaking out on boats on the water and fireboats having to be called in.

As a kid the idea of a fire boat is one of the coolest ideas in the world. Seeing one in action is even better. Even to my adult rational mind there is something so amazing and almost magical about seeing a fire on the water. It seems to defy nature and yet there it is in front of you, raging flames on top of an expanse of salt water.

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