Boat Grilling Safety Tips

Beaming sunlight warms your skin as you pop the grill lid. Breezy winds whip at your clothes when you study your fuel. Rolling waves lap at your vessel while you check the heat. You’ve strapped a kettle-style cooking surface to a rail mount, pointed far into the deepest water in sight, and declared you'd have sizzling fresh steaks exactly on that very spot. And as the flames flicker to life, you grin triumphantly — for you have produced live fire above open waters. Forget physics! Forget thermodynamics! The very laws of nature have bent to your will, humiliated by your persistence. Never again will water and wind dare to intervene in your fun!

…Or so you think. You see, dear reader: Mother Nature is a sore loser, and she loves turning the tables on would-be grillers far from shore. (Bit of a cruel hobby, we think.) While it's perfectly safe under the right conditions to boat grill, you must first guarantee that you do have, in fact, the right conditions. There are ample safety guidelines in play; many are common sense, but others don't necessarily come straight to mind right away. Before you go about parading around fire over literally the least hospitable environment for it, educate yourself on the best practices for appropriate maritime merrymaking. (We guarantee that, if you read these tips, you won't need to face down a giant prehistoric lizard monster with spicy atomic breath at sea. That’d ruin just about anyone’s Saturday.)

Preparing Your Boat Grill

  • Read the Instruction Manual.

    Did you expect anything else to be step number one? We bring this up at the get-go because it should absolutely be your first move in observing boat safety, and because our legal department really loves it when we do this. Now, because we're not walking encyclopedias of boat safety, we’ll turn you to the good folks who built your grill — the owner's manual they've included in your purchase will outline everything from correct assembly to guidelines for proper operation. And hey, if you have any questions the manual doesn’t answer, those guys don’t include their phone numbers because they’re lonely; the contact info is there to provide you specific answers to specific questions.

  • Never Use Liquid Lighter Fluids.

    Streams of fluid aren’t historically known for their great wind resistance. In fact, they’re usually beholden to quick pivots as anything choppier than standing air enters the picture. That’s why, as a general rule, we don’t recommend spritzing a burst of flame-hungry liquid into fire anywhere known for sudden gusts of wind. If you know your physics — or your basic maritime activities — then you’ll know why “open water” just might ping our radar on that one.

  • Check Your Grill Mount.

    Remember how we said Mother Nature is a sore loser? Windy or not, every pelting lap of the waves against your hull is one test after another against your boat grill’s mount fastenings. One of the best, earliest things you do before breaking out the party is to double-check the structural integrity of your boat grill. Is it securely fastened to the rail? How confident are you in the mounting brackets? Anything can happen, and it’s better you take the time to prepare (or tighten) those bolts before fire enters the equation.

  • Mounted Magma Marine Boat Grill

  • Bring Appropriate Grilling Accessories.

    One of the more important parts to boat grilling is being the winner of everyone’s favorite party game, “Not on Fire.” Here’s the win condition: don’t catch fire. (Best part, it’s a collaborative game, so everyone can win together!) An easy way to not lose that particular game is to invest in proper grilling equipment. You’re out to widen the gap between your extremities and the roasting heat: we’re talking grilling gloves, grilling aprons, and long-handled tongs for starters. Keep your fingers free of hissing food, and you’ll limit your risk of burning or igniting. See? You’re winning already.

  • Learn Your Boat Grill’s Safety Features.

    Until we awaken in a world where apron-clad robots do all the grilling for us, we’re stuck with observing our own grilling safety procedures. Luckily, boat grills with increasingly robust features are released with comparative regularity — acquaint yourself with them. The last thing you want to do when an accident flares out of control is panic; knowing all the safety features of your boat grill can help keep a bad situation under control. Now, if that emergency is “apron-clad robots have come for my fajitas,” you probably won’t find that one in the manual. Just saying.

  • Observe Your Marina’s Rules.

    Some folks love to grill docked at the marina. Most marinas aren’t the happiest with the idea — we’re not one to insert words into mouths, but perhaps they just don’t like the thought of encouraging flames in clustered spaces near their bridges. Well, whatever their reasoning, those rules are there for your safety and the safety of others. Before you try it, give your marina staff a quick call to clarify the rules. Besides, who likes hefty liability fees? We sure don’t.

  • Marina Rules signage

Using Your Boat Grill

  • Only Grill Docked or Anchored.

    What’s that? You want to sizzle up a great steak while drifting leisurely across the waves? Better idea: don’t do that. While you might not expect to run into much thudding wave action while enjoying that relaxing afternoon out on the water, you never know what’s around the bend. Whether the wind kicks into full sail, the wake of further activity out comes your way, or a gargantuan radioactive Japanese lizard with a horrible screech thinks you’re hogging the view, trust us: don’t rock the boat with your boat grilling.

  • Man on docked boat grilling with a Magma Marine Propane Boat Grill

Grill Downwind (And Away From Flammables).

Let’s say you did everything right. You read the manual, you checked the fastenings, you stood away while cooking, and you started with a perfectly lit flame. It’s all good, right? Not so! What about that billowing shirt and those baggy shorts? All it takes is a slip, a push of wind, a sputter of oil, or any other number of small factors to introduce fire to anything that welcomes it with open arms. Keep that grill downwind from anything flammable — and make sure those around you do, too.

  • Never Leave the Grill Unattended.

    This one’s a no-brainer: when the grill is on, you become a participant in a game called “never, ever leave the grill alone.” This rule is in place to prevent any number of accidents, from grease fires to stray debris, and it’s one you must always follow. You don’t have to go far to read the horror stories; even the more benign tales typically end in panic, flames, tears, and nobody getting burgers. Keep eyes on the grill at all times, and nobody’s looking at used boat ads next week.

  • Charcoal boat grill on fire

Always Grill In Well-Ventilated Areas Above Deck.

Grilling is a very, very smoky activity. (Surprise!) Usually, that’s basically the point, but you’ll never want to be in an enclosed area with trapped smoke. Shrink that choking hazard and smoke exposure by keeping your boat grill in operation outside and in the open. Not only will you look just plain fantastic doing it, but you’ll let that pesky, drafty wind take care of the ventilation for you — we say, work with physics, not against it. Picture salmon flopping majestically upstream: that shouldn’t be you fighting against propane physics. It should be regular salmon en route to your grill grates.

  • Where’s Your Fire Extinguisher?

    Even in a vacuum, no one is the undisputed master of their own grill. (Especially not a vacuum. No air flow!) Grills can absolutely go up in flames. They can spit grease. And few grill masters can claim a picture-perfect barbecue from start to finish every single time. That’s why you shouldn’t take the chance. Mother Nature loves to provoke fire — and she’s very, very good at it — so you might as well be prepared for the worst. Keep a separate fire extinguisher within reach for emergencies, and you’ll minimize that risk.

  • Fire Extinguisher in use

Maintaining and Storing Your Boat Grill

  • Keep Your Grill Clean.

    To clean, or not to clean? Trick question: clean. It will always be “clean.” Besides being generally unsightly and a potential breeding ground for bacteria, leftover food material makes a great surprise fuel source that operates entirely on chance. You’re harnessing fire; you don’t want chance. Forget leaving behind residue that can suddenly add extra flame to your food. On the open water or not, a clean grill is a safe grill. Besides, you understand how tenacious sea gulls are around leftover food on shore. Do you really want to fight them on the waves, too? They’ll find a way. You know they will.

  • Cleaning charcoal grill

Before Stowing, Fully Cool Your Grill.

Remember the old adage about “cooler heads prevailing”? We’re not saying that you need to be an ice-themed sea monster to beat that gargantuan, acid-breathed sea lizard (although, that would be pretty awesome), but you should think twice before stowing away your grill. Please ensure that it has properly cooled first. It’s one thing to get the “extra” meal out of the heat source, but it’s another thing to get a literal firecracker under a deck or even a pricy repair job. Trust us: you don’t want to be the one explaining to your guests that this is why you’re not serving food tomorrow.

Using Propane Boat Grills

  • Always Check Fuel Connections.

    No matter if you did everything right and followed the book exactly, you still need to double-check that your gas hose is connected properly before you kick on the heat. Most grill masters proficient in propane have experienced those moments of fumbling with the latch, flipping the wrong valve, or the connection coming just a little too loose. That’s how the gas flow stops, and it’s how sparks start. You certainly don’t want an errant spark anywhere near your grill. Who knows? Maybe that massive Japanese lizard guy with the radioactive breath just has a fitting loose.

  • Carefully Store Propane At All Times.

    Done grilling? Always immediately store the tank and all related equipment safely away from the grill and above deck in a well-ventilated area. That way, escaping vapors can scamper away overboard — free to run away and join the circus, or do whatever leaked propane gas does far from prying eyes. Propane tanks also necessitate protection from mechanical damage and the elements; carefully choose a solution that covers those certainties, and frequently check the canisters for damage. That way, if some clowns have snuck aboard and passed out carnival fliers and tank beatings, you’ll be prepared. Actually, scratch that last sentence. Nobody’s prepared for that.

  • Never Use Propane Above Open Areas.

    If you know your gases, you’ll recall propane gas is heavier than air; that means it will settle in any low-lying space it can find. If you have a leak, you risk it finding somewhere in open lockers or companionways. Not good. What’s the solution? Stay away from those spaces when you’re grilling with heavier gases. Always grill in a well-ventilated areas away from passages and large gaps where propane gas can congregate, and you'll spare yourself a world of potential problems. Ever looked at trouble and thought, “Boy, I could use more of that?” Didn’t think so.

  • Magma Propane Boat Grill Mounted

Using Charcoal Boat Grills

  • Position Charcoal Grills Over the Water.

    What are two things that don't mix well? Truth be told, plenty. But we’re specifically thinking about your pristine boat floor and those lit, crackling embers. So, before you light that charcoal, be sure that you’re not going to be setting anything on your boat ablaze. Position your boat grill facing over the water, and any runaway coals threatening to start trouble will have nowhere to go but the largest single fire deterrent in the world. Fancy that! Maybe they’ll think about that the next time they want to scare a bunch of people just trying to have a good time.

  • Charcoal Boat Grill over the water grilling fish

  • Don’t Dump Charcoal Overboard…

    We get it. The charcoal smoke taste is fantastic, but the clean-up? Not so much. Before you get any bad ideas about ash collection, know that most waters prohibit the dumping of ashes overboard. After all, it’s a safety hazard: warm ashes take literal days to cool down. What happens if the wind kicks in and blows half of that debris back onboard? Furthermore, it’s harmful to the environment, many jurisdictions rightfully consider it littering or polluting, and it’s dangerous to the wildlife — that’s how you get the unwanted attention of towering lizard sea monsters. (Sorry, thought we forgot about the lizard? Absolutely not!)

  • …And Don’t Beach It, Either.

    A lot of this is the previous tip with a fresh coat of paint. But let’s not get off on the wrong foot here: beaches attract a lot of bare skin; sand shifts, and ashes retain heat. In fact, once the fire is extinguished, they still can stay hot to the touch for 3–4 days. Then again, nobody’s exactly doing that pristine beach any favors by mixing its naturally fine, bleached-white particles with grubby ash and soot. You don’t need a fine arts degree in color mixology to grasp that one. There! Saved you some tuition fees.

Using Electric Boat Grills

  • Check Your Generator’s Manual.

    When you installed that electric boat grill, you turned to the wide array of traditional grills and said, “Next time, try being more convenient.” Without the need to lug around combustible gas canisters or charcoal, you’ve thrown in your lot with simple AC power. That does beget the question: how’s it getting power? For most, this means a generator built into the vessel itself. That generator has its own safety requirements; re-acquaint yourself with them. Once that’s done, feel free to personally demonstrate to the awaiting aquatic wildlife what happens when it gets too curious near your lines. Bon appétit!

  • Keep Aware of Hidden Heat.

    The big benefit to electric boat grills is that they don’t generate fire. (Full disclosure, if yours does: we don’t generally include “sparking electrical fires” under the “features” column.) That boon can become a bane if you — or a guest — mistakenly assumes the grates aren’t throbbing with searing heat. Be certain to explain to your guests, especially any younger ones, that the grill could be hot to the touch. If it seems common sense, remind yourself: would you rather give a routine refresher, or find a sudden and rather unexpected need to fish out the first aid kit?

Final Considerations

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re much better prepared to properly operate your boat grill, guarantee a great time for all, and ultimately steer clear of any titanic, prehistoric sea reptiles. Just to reiterate: while this article does cast a wide net to cover common safety concerns, we sadly can’t prepare you for all the possibilities within your own boating situation. There may be other potential risks you should bear in mind that aren’t covered by this article.

That’s why it’s so important to read your owner’s manual front-to-back. Acquaint yourself with common concerns and best practices. Read those instructions. Learn them. Know them. That way, if something does go astray, you’ll be left in great shape to take back control before any serious problems can develop. With that said, we hope you’ve enjoyed the read! If you have questions about our premium selection of boat grills, give us a call at 1-877-279-3002. See you on the water!

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