Published on Australian Maritime Safety Authority (

Reducing the risk of electrical faults and fires

Stay safe. Keep operating. Reduce the risk of electrical fire from batteries and electrical installations on your vessel.

An AI generated image of a ship on fire in the ocean with the words 'Be electrically safe'

3 ways to reduce risks

Ensure wiring, connections and batteries are regularly inspected by a suitably competent person as part of your maintenance plan. Get any issues identified fixed. 

Check that lithium-ion battery installations meet the Australian Standard and are installed by a competent person.

Develop a procedure to manage the risks associated with charging portable lithium-ion batteries. 

A growing problem


Since 2021, electrical installations and test records have been in the top 5 issues found during domestic commercial vessel (DCV) inspections. Issues commonly involve: 


The risk of electrical fire has increased as electrical systems on vessels have become more common and complex. Navigation lights, engine starting circuits, energy storage systems, audio, video, Wi-Fi, satellite navigation and communications are all driven by electrical systems.

Batteries have played a part in several serious vessel fires. Some of these fires have been catastrophic, resulting in the loss of a vessel and the lives of people on board.

Lessons learned: In 2019, 34 people died and the passenger vessel Conception was lost when it caught fire. Unsupervised batteries being charged was one of the likely ignition sources. 

Hazards and best practices

Learn about the hazards and best practices associated with batteries and wiring for a safer boating experience.

Lead acid batteries 

Lead acid batteries are the most common battery type found on board vessels.  

Common hazards

  • Corrosion: Acid leaks can corrode nearby components and the hull.
  • Hydrogen gas emission: Gas is released during charging, which poses an explosion risk. 

Best practices

  • Address the risk of explosion from lead acid batteries as part of your safety management system. 
  • Store batteries within an acid resistant container with the required ventilation. Ensure that the terminals are covered and batteries secured. 
  • Regularly inspect batteries as part of your planned maintenance schedule.
  • Make sure sources of ignition or flammable materials aren't near the charging location.  
  • Maintain electrolyte levels (some batteries).
  • Ensure installation by a suitably competent person in accordance with the Australian Standard.
Lithium-ion batteries 

Lithium-ion batteries are becoming more popular because they're lighter and have more energy storage capacity. These batteries are generally very stable but if they're not used properly, they can pose risks.  

Common hazards

  • Thermal runaway: Overcharging or overheating can lead to thermal runaway. This causes fire and the release of toxic and explosive super-hot gases and compounds.   
  • Sudden voltage spikes: These may damage sensitive electronic devices. 

Best practices

  • Select batteries from a reputable manufacturer.
  • Ensure installation by a suitably competent person in accordance with the Australian Standard.
  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions for their care, installation and maintenance.  
  • Regularly monitor your battery condition and charge status.
  • Charge batteries in a fireproof container.
  • Monitor charging for fire, smoke, damage and overcharging, overheating, mechanical damage and operation outside manufacturer's guidance.
  • Consider installing a gas, heat and smoke monitoring system.
  • Use an approved battery management system that meets the Australian Standard.

Remember: Lithium-ion batteries are a battery energy storage system. They are not a standalone system or a suitable replacement for lead acid batteries. 

Lessons learned: In 2023, a lithium-ion battery system caused an explosion on a charter fishing vessel.

Portable device charging

Charging lithium-ion batteries for portable devices can pose risks if you don’t consider safety precautions.   

Common hazards

  • Overheating: Batteries can enter an uncontrollable, self-heating state. This can cause the release of gas, fire or possibly an explosion. 
    Damage: Overcharging can reduce the lifespan and effectiveness of your battery. 

Best practices

  • Develop and implement a procedure for onboard charging of electronic devices that have lithium-ion batteries. This should consider the risk of a thermal runaway event including venting of toxic and flammable gases and compounds. 
  • Charge batteries away from accommodation spaces. Make sure the area is clear of ignition sources and flammable items.
  • Supervise batteries while charging and disconnect when fully charged. Consider setting timers as a reminder to unplug devices. 
  • Never leave lithium-ion batteries, or portable devices, in hot places or direct sunlight. 
  • Inspect batteries prior to charging. Do not charge if there are any signs of damage, or if the battery is hot to touch.  
  • Dispose of damaged batteries according to manufacturer's instructions. 
  • Develop an emergency plan for a lithium-ion fire. Ensure crew understand what to do.  

All electrical systems have common components such as wiring and connectors. Hazards can result in fire or malfunction.  

Common hazards

  • Physical damage to wiring insulation: This may be caused by chafing, UV light damage or exposure to chemicals. 
  • Wet environments: The maritime environment exposes electrical systems to moisture. This increases the chance of short circuits and corrosion. 
  • Ageing or poorly installed wiring.  
  • Overloaded circuits: This can result in overheating.  

Best practices

  • Address the risk of fire from electrical installations as part of your safety management system. 
  • Regularly inspect wiring and connections for wear, corrosion, and security of connections. 
  • Ask a licensed electrician to inspect and resistance test your vessel’s electrical cabling and connections. Do this as part of your planned maintenance schedule.  
  • Select wiring for the correct current rating, taking into account the voltage drop. The size of the wiring may need to be increased.
  • Ensure installation by a suitably competent person in accordance with the Australian Standard.


Next steps: Address the risk of fire from batteries, portable device charging and electrical installations in your safety management system.

Remember: DCVs are 'workplaces' under state and territory workplace health and safety laws. This means additional electrical requirements may apply. Find out more about work health and safety on DCVs.