Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Foiling Boat Fires

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

boat fires title

While it would be great if we could avoid adversities of all types at all times, of course we can’t. However, taking steps to prevent calamities that are avoidable lessens our risks and eases our concerns. One such event is averting a boat fire by practicing preventative maintenance and taking simple precautions.

Courtesy BoatUS Foundation

Courtesy BoatUS Foundation

According to Ted Sensenbrenner, assistant director of boating safety programs for the BoatUS Foundation, the three types of fires that mainly occur on boats are electrical, gasoline, and engine related.

Electrical fires may start when wiring systems are not up to par, as chafed wires are extremely dangerous situations waiting to happen. Wires that are exposed to prolonged water (such as in the bilge) or in damp areas pose another threat. By inspecting your wiring often, you’ll see what needs to be replaced or moved before any hazard increases.

“Lately, a number of fires have started due to batteries being placed in backwards with the negative and positive wires being confused,” says Charles Fort, associate editor of  BoatUS’ magazine, Seaworthy, and director of consumer protection and administrator of the salvage arbitration program. To sidestep a negative, batteries must be correctly secured, fused, and installed. Ask for a mechanic’s help if you’re not positive you know how to install a battery.

“Proper electronics installation is paramount,” Sensenbrenner reiterates. He recommends checking with a marine pro who is a member of the American Boat and Yacht Council.

Seaworthy July 2011, Alert, More on Wires and Fires, Cabin fire, Claim #0504376,2011 Alert BoatU.S._Images Claim #0504376 July Photo3-db SW_0711 SW_0711_Alert_Speakers.JPG Seaworthy Seaworthy JULY Seaworthy July 2011 _Upload cabin fire wires and fires,Seaworthy,July,2011Electrical fires are not limited to in-season. “Winterizing is incredibly important,” says Fort. Dehumidifiers and heaters left aboard an unattended vessel may ignite, especially if something shifts and the heater makes contact with something flammable.

Danger from engine fires lie in situations such as an exhaust manifold overheating from lack of cooling water and then igniting. Experts say the number one precaution against such an occurrence is having your vessel’s engine(s) serviced seasonally and then regularly troubleshooting to make sure that nothing sounds, looks, or smells “off.”

“When considering repairs on your boat remember that marine-rated parts like starters, alternators, or generators are designed to limit spark exposure; that’s why they are more expensive than standard automotive parts,” said Tim Baumgarten, boating law administrator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Resist the urge to replace engine parts with automotive parts because they are cheaper.”

To avoid the peril of a gasoline fire, make sure that the gas hoses you buy are manufactured for boats — they’ll be stamped as U.S. Coast Guard approved. If you don’t find these markings on your current hose(s), replace immediately.

The sniff test is an easy way to check for leaks in a gas hose: take a clean rag and wipe the hose with it. If you smell gas, it’s time for a new hose, pronto! (Dispose of the soiled rag properly, as it’s an environmental risk as well as being flammable.)

Refueling has important rules to thwart fire mishaps. From clearing passengers, closing the boat, and turning off equipment, each step is important (see link at end of story for complete routine).

“Boaters must practice fuel spill prevention,” says Sensenbrenner, who advises that detecting the odor of gas is important after refueling. Both he and Fort stress that if you smell gas after refueling, don’t turn the key! A blaze can begin from the slightest spark igniting a fuel source or even vapor.

Misplacement of gas into the incorrect fill opening, like a water tank or even a fishing rod holder that may look like a fuel fill, can also turn ugly quickly. Fort has heard too many stories about fueling gone wrong, including “several boaters who wet-vacced a gas spill. They and others received serious burns.”

If you have spilled gas in the bilge or other compartment, do nothing except call the fire department immediately.

Courtesy TowBoatUS

Courtesy TowBoatUS

“Smoke detectors are a great idea,” says Sensenbrenner. He recommends nine-volt-powered detectors with audible alarms mounted in each of the sleeping quarters, near the galley, and in the machinery space where the engine and generator are mounted. [Editor’s note: Look for detectors that are certified for marine use.]

When it comes to fire safety, being nosy is encouraged. “Your neighbor’s boat is your business,” says Fort, who has seen many boats ignite after the boat next to them caught fire.

While the goal is to avoid fires from starting, when it comes to fire extinguishers aboard “prudent boaters will often have more than what’s required,” says Sensenbrenner. He recommends an ABC-type extinguisher, which handles more types of fires than single A, B, or C models.

Don’t try to handle a conflagration. Per Sensenbrenner, “Boat fires can get out of control really quickly. Once they begin, the chances of putting them out are not good.”

If you’re face to face with flames and/or smoke, listen to both your gut and Sensenbrenner: “Get your life jacket on and get off the boat.”

Sites of interest:

BoatUS tips

The American Boat and Yacht Council

U.S. Coast Guard approved equipment list

Fuel safety procedure

By Rebecca Hoey

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lives on Long Island’s East End with her teenage daughter. They dedicate much of their time to animal rescue. She began a writing career as a contributor/blogger for Her greatest escape is baking.

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