10 Boiler Operating Mistakes On Ships That Can Cost Big Time

Every engine room machinery system requires a specific procedure for starting and stopping it. Boiler being one of the most important systems on board ships, requires special care and attention during operation and maintenance. Inability to do so leads to major failures and accidents, which can not only be life-threatening but also cause huge damage to the ship’s properly.

Mentioned below are 10 boiler operating mistakes that can lead to heavy loss of life and properly on board ships:

1. Starting a Boiler Without Pre-purging the Furnace: Almost all boilers come with an automation system of starting and stopping comprising of programmed pre-purging and post-purging of furnace before the burner is fired. Never ignore or isolate this safety feature. If the boiler has to run manually, it must be pre-purged by means of FD fan for at least 2 minutes. Avoiding this step can lead to blowback and even explosion.

Verticale Boiler

2. Ignoring Furnace Blowback: Several accidents in the past involving furnace blowback have lead to fatal situations on board ships. Still marine engineers often overlook this danger and fire furnace even when the first attempt ends with flame failure and blowback. One of the reasons for this is stated above i.e. no pre-purging of furnace.

3. Bypassing Safety and Alarm: This is a common practice among seafarers, who bypass some of the safety or automation sequences to shorten operating procedure of boilers. Such systems are installed to ensure safety of ship personnel and thus should never be missed.

4. No checks on Boiler Refractory:  Boiler refractory provides better heat-exchanging efficiency and closes/seals gaps to restrict fire, heat, ashes etc. inside the boiler . Regular inspection of boiler refractory is important as damaged refractory would expose the boiler shell to flame and heat, leading to bulging or even cracking of the boiler shell.

5. Dirty Gauge Glasses: Gauge glasses installed on the boiler are the only physical means to check the water level of the boiler. Every engineer knows the procedure to blow the gauge glass for avoiding any kind of blockage. Neglecting this can lead to wrong water level indication and heavy damage to boiler tubes.
INA boiler 2

6. Pilot Burner Check: Many engineers remove the pilot burner to check the electrode spark. Such practice can lead to electrical shock and even fire if the surrounding are not properly cleaned or the pilot burner is kept on oily floor plate with rags. The best way to check the pilot burner operation is to fit it in place and watch the firing from boiler inspection manhole located opposite of the burner.


7. No Clean-up After Burner Maintenance: When any maintenance work is done on the burner assembly (pilot or main burner) and the surrounding area is not cleaned before trying out the boiler, there are high chances of fire and explosion as blowbacks are normal during starting-up after maintenance. Oil spilled inside the furnace and over the burner assembly can add more to this blowback, converting it into an explosion.

8. Cold Condition – Thermal Shock: Never fire a boiler continuously when starting from cold condition to avoid thermal shock. Thus in cold condition, boiler should be started by following an intermediate firing pattern, for e.g.  2 minutes of firing followed by 10 minutes of break. Also, once the boiler starts to warm up the “break” time gradually decreases and the “firing” period increases simultaneously

9. Wrong Operation of EGB Circulating Pump: Exhaust gas boiler (EGB) normally comes with water circulating pump. It is important to start this pump well ahead, at least 2 hours, of starting the main engine and to be stopped 12 hours (the time may reduce depending upon the capacity of the boiler and the geographical condition) after stopping the main engine to avoid thermal shock and EGB fire.

10. Cleaning of EGB tubes:  The exhaust gas boiler (EGB) tubes are arranged in the passage of exhaust gases, which heats the water in the tubes. If these smoke tubes are not cleaned regularly, it can lead to soot deposits over the tubes and during low load operation or improper combustion oil can mix up with the soot. When ignited, the soot can lead to major soot fire followed by hydrogen or iron fire.

Are you aware of any other boiler operating mistakes that can be extremely dangerous to ship’s crew and property?

Let us know in the comments below.


  1. raunek in point no 9 . …the egb pump should be kept running atleast for 4 to 6 hrs. after stopping the main engine, please see into this .

  2. Hi Ankit,

    Thank You for pointing out. But their is no fixed timing as it will depend on the boiler pressure and surrounding temperatures.

  3. it is really helpfull to the marine engineering students as it provides the basic and important information while operating a boiler.

  4. Just to add on the gauge glass maintenance – the reading of gauge glass and its daily testing. At the moment I am preparing students for Class 4 CoC and Diploma students for Marine Engineering.

    Possibly we can collaborate with questions bank for Oral Exams and answers can be verified by us. I have spent 14 years in Marine Department, 10 years in shipping and oil and gas, 2 years in power generation and 5 years in maritime institutions.

    I really appreciate your good effort in contributing to the marine industry and would like you to visit our academy in Sibu, Sarawak Malaysia and the ship building in this town, since we are the largest builder of marine craft in Malaysia ie 140 crafts annually.

  5. On the old scotch boilers there was an air cock on the top of the boiler. This air cock required to be opened prior to commencement of initial firing of the boiler and closed eventually when steam was apparent from the air cock.

  6. Regular testing of boiler water should be as important… There have been lot of cases of boiler blow out due to this neglect!

  7. Boiler water testing can also be added in the above points… As it also plays an imp role. Specially on board tankers.

  8. Hello everyone. Is anybody here can give me a help.
    Why the boiler keep running the purging and can’t make the fire. Thanks a lot
    Please help

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