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SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

History of the Boating Safety Program:

The boating safety program got it's start in the 1960's. Many people in the boating community felt that there were too many accidents, and consequently, too many deaths and injuries.  Various boating organizations and consumer groups came together, and their efforts culminated in the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971.  The act mandated the U. S. Coast Guard to develop a boating safety program with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of accidents and fatalities in recreational boats. There were many players in this effort and no one organization or group can claim to have done it alone (although some do).

The Act was codified into law in Title 46 United States Code Chapter 43,  and the implementing regulations are in Title 33 Code of Federal Regulations Part 179 through 183.

The resulting program was made up of three elements, Education, Enforcement and Engineering.

The Education portion has resulted in programs to educate boaters in safe operation of their boats through state boating programs and boating safety organizations such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the US Power Squadron, and others.  As a result many states now require that boaters take a course and pass a test, and they issue a card or certificate to them to indicate they have learned a minimum requirement of knowledge.  It has also resulted in rules for mandatory use of life jackets for children under age 13.

The Enforcement of operational boating laws and regulations was initially the responsibility of the Coast Guard, but over the years this has been transferred to the states, all of which now have very active enforcement programs. These programs are coordinated through the National Association Of State Boatng Law Adminstrators (NASBLA) to help insure that enforcement is uniform across the states.

The Engineering portion of this program was left to the U. S. Coast Guard to develop and enforce uniform standards for recreational boats that would provide a minimum standard of safety. This was done in conjunction with the boating industry through the cooperation of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Underwriters Laboratories, (UL) and other boating safety organizations.

The Ventilation and Backfire Flame Arrestor standards had been in place since the 1930's. There were some modifications made to bring them up to date.

Initially the standards that were developed in the 1970's were:

Labeling
Safe Loading
Flotation
Safe Horsepower for Outboard Powered Boats
Start in Gear Protection for Outboards
Defect Notification  (recall) Requirements

Also a standard for Hull identification Numbers was developed as a means to identify when boats were manufactured so that it would be evident what standards applied at the time the boat was built.  It also allowed a manufacturer to keep track of their boats. In the case of a defect notification campaign they could then notify the boat owners.

In the 1980s, ongoing issues with fires and explosions resulted in creation of standards for Fuel and Electrical systems on gasoline powered boats. Most of the above standards had already been developed and adopted by the boating industry through the ABYC and NMMA or adopted from SAE, NFPA and UL  standards. NMMA members were required by their membership rules to comply with ABYC and NMMA standards. The U. S. Coast Guard simply adopted many of these standards, and modified the language to meet Federal legal requirements for regulations.

During the mid 80's (the Reagan administration) some rules were removed from the regulations, but they remained in the ABYC and NMMA standards.

This web site is all about those standards.

Why are there so many requirements for fuel, electrical and ventilation on boats?

History and accident investigations have shown that one of the most devastating and damaging accidents that can happen on a boat is a an explosion or fire. There is simply nowhere for you to go and it usually happens so fast, there is no reaction that can be made to prevent much of the damage and injuries that occur. So, over the years safety standards have been developed to prevent this.

Fires and explosions require three conditions before they can occur. This is called the fire triangle and has been around for many, many years. It is, oxygen, a source of ignition, and fuel. On boats the oxygen obviously is present, the source of ignition is usually the boats electrical system, and the fuel is generally gasoline. Do not be fooled though. Even though diesel is much less volatile than gasoline and fires occur much less frequently, diesel powered boats need to follow the same rules.

So, if one side of the fire triangle can be eliminated, then the explosion and fire can be prevented. Each of the standards dealing with fuel systems, electrical systems and ventilation is designed to eliminate one of the sides of the fire triangle.

Ventilation: Fires and explosions occur within a very narrow range of conditions called the lower explosive limit (LEL) and upper explosive limit (UEL). This is the ratio of fuel to air. The range for gasoline is between a ratio of seven parts air to one part fuel vapor, and fourteen parts air to one part fuel vapor. 7 to 1 to 14 to 1. A ratio greater than 14 to 1 is too lean to explode (too much oxygen) and less than 7 to 1 is too rich to explode (too much fuel). This is why your car won't start when it's flooded. Too much fuel. Ventilation is designed to keep the LEL way below 14 to 1 so you never reach the lower explosive limit. Pour in lots of air and you should never reach that ratio. Big block engines especially need lots of air to breath properly so a well designed ventilation system is very important.

Fuel: The fuel system standard is designed to do one thing. Stop leaks! The hose specified is to insure that the hose will withstand the heat, humidity, and most importantly, the components of the fuel, without getting hard, or too soft, cracking or splitting. The hose is also designed to withstand fire for 2 minutes so that should a fire occur, the hose doesn't just become a steady source of fuel for the fire. The fuel system fittings are designed to prevent leaks where they most frequently occur, at the fitting. Eliminate as many fittings as possible. Keep it simple!

Electrical: Last but not least, the electrical system has to be designed to eliminate sparks; sources of ignition! This is the why there is an ignition protection requirement. But also, there is a need for over current protection, to eliminate the short circuit that causes the wire to get red hot and melt, setting off a fire. There are other safety considerations for electrical systems.

Shock hazard is a big consideration today. Twenty years ago most boats had a 12 Volt DC system. Few boats had 110 volt AC systems. They were generally only found on large yachts. Today it is very common to have extensive AC systems on even small cruisers in the 25 and 26 foot range, and on cruising sailboats in the 30 foot range. Larger yachts are installing 220 and 600 volt systems. Shock hazards are very real.

Galvanic Corrosion!: Galvanic corrosion is a very real problem on boats, particularly boats with both AC and DC systems. Even if your boat is well protected, the one next to you in the marina may not be. A poorly designed system can eat the stern drives right off your boat in a few days!

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revised 01/28/2018

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