Disclaimer: I am not a spokesperson for
the US Coast Guard. For an official interpretation of regulations you must contact the US Coast Guard or
other organization referenced.. More.....
Fires, Explosions And Prevention
There is probably nothing more devastating and frightening than a fire
on a boat! There is simply nowhere to go except jump over board. If an
explosion occurs the damage is catastrophic. Worse yet, if the fire
occurs in a marina, the fire often spreads to surrounding boats.
Fortunately these rarely result in deaths. Although there were 221 fire
and explosion accidents in 2006 in the US, there were only 4 deaths. But
that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. Fires often result in
horrendous injuries and massive burns to the body.
Click on the photo for a slide show.
These types of accidents are divided into two categories, those from
fuel and those from other sources. 146 were fuel. 75 were other. Other
is usually electrical.
Fuel fires are usually the result of a fuel leak some where in the fuel
system. These leaks are almost always where a hose connects to a
fitting. On rare occasions there will be a pin hole leak in a hose
or tank, or a leaky gasket. The vapor from the fuel is then ignited by a spark from
electrical equipment causing an explosion. This is why it is extremely
important to make sure your fuel, electrical and ventilation systems
comply with USCG,ABYCor
ISO standards, all of which are similar. (http://newboatbuilders.com/)
It is also important to check the system regularly. A fuel system pressure
test is a good way to make sure there are no leaks. This can be done by
most marine service providers. Electrical systems should be inspected at
least annually, and ventilation should be checked as well.
Electrical fires are equally as devastating. Corrosion is an electrical
system's worst enemy. Even a correctly installed system candevelopcorrosion
at connections which results in high resistance and heat. Heat is what
starts the fire, but the real culprit is bad connections, either from
loose connections or corroded connections. Many fires result from the
shore power inlet plug corroding or loosening while the boat is sitting
idle over the winter months. Boat owners should check their boat
frequently. They should not only look for flooding and other problems
but, especially if they have a heater on board that is left running, they
should make sure the power cord is not loose and not heating up. They
should pull the plug and check the conditions of the metal prongs. Any
sign of corrosion or discoloration should be looked into for the cause.
The cause may not be on the boat. It could be the shore pedestal. So ifeverythingon
the boat checks out have the marina check theshorepedestal.
Last but not least, what do you do in the case of a fire? It depends on
the situation. Very minor fires can be fought with a fire extinguisher.
But if the fire lasts more than 30 seconds you probably won't be able to
put it out. Engine room fires require more effective equipment such as an
automatic fixed fire fighting system. If you have a fixed fire fighting
system, make sure it will also automatically shut off the engine room
blower. You don't want all your fire fighting agent simply blown out of
the engine room.
Electrical fires, if caught
quickly, can usually be stopped simply by turning off the power or
disconnecting the shore cord. However, if any of these fail the best
action is to abandon ship. If you are underway and have time, put out a
mayday and don't forget to give your position. If you have an EPIRB you
can activate it and it will automatically send out a distress signal. If
you are at the dock, get off the boat and call the fire department. If
possible move other boats away from the boat on fire. Sometimes it is
actually possible to tow the burning boat out of the marina, but leave
this to the Coast Guard, Marine Police or fire department.
The best way to put out a fire on a boat is sink it. It probably will
sink anyway if the fire is really bad. However, this may also result in
pollution from leaking fuel. But once you are off the boat leave the
fire to the professionals to fight.
If you are underway when this occurs, getting off the boat may not be as
simple as it sounds. Going into the water may not be a good choice, but
it might be the only choice. If you have a dinghy or inflatable it
should be mounted in such a way that it can be released
and put over the side. For offshore boats an inflatable life raft will
automatically release itself and inflate. Make sure if you do go over
the side you are wearing life jackets. This is why they must
be worn or readily at hand. It is very difficult to put one on in the
water so you want it on before you go in.
Most onboard fires do not occur at sea. In fact most occur at the dock or shortly after
fueling. So rescue is usually close by. But properly maintaining your
boat, checking your fuel and electrical systems will prevent most
problems. Knowing what to do and practicing an abandon ship drill will
The key to all of this is following proper maintenance of fuel and
electrical systems, and fueling procedures. I cannot stress
maintenance enough. Every spring, check your fuel system. Replace
any hoses or fittings that are questionable.
Have the tank and fuel system pressure tested for leaks.
Check the clamps that keep the hoses in place. If they have started
to corrode, replace them. Make sure the clamps you replace them with
are 316L stainless steel, including the screw that tightens the
clamp. Often the band is stainless but the screw is not. Fuel
systems are not the place to try to save a few bucks.
Make sure the hoses are USCG Type A hoses. Look for the label on the
hose. Automotive fuel hose is not the same thing. Again, don’t try
to save a few bucks here.
Do not use automotive parts, either as hose or electrical parts on
the engine. Do not replace starters, alternators and carburetors
with automotive parts. They may look the same, but they are not the
same. Electrical equipment needs to be marine UL listed, and
ignition protected. If your boat is an outboard, replace the fuel
hoses with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) hoses. They are
designed to be UV resistant and must meet marine industry standards.
Every time you use the boat, check the
engine compartment first. Take a look at the fuel system and
fittings. Sniff for fumes. Adequately ventilate before attempting to
start the boat. Run the blower for at least four minutes. If the
engine doesn’t start don’t keep cranking. It isn’t good for the
starter, and it could overheat the wires to the starter. Wait a
minute, and try again. If after a few tries it still won’t start,
stop trying and find out why it isn’t starting. Fix the problem
before trying again.
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