Due to the ample supply of fuel and lack of sprint area, fire is every mariner’s worst nightmare. Never has the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ been more appropriate. Despite this, most people don’t give this emergency situation more thought than throwing a token $30 half KG fire extinguisher on the boat, which is about as useful as a fork at a soup kitchen!
LPG gas is an enthusiastic source for an emotional day. You must always ensure it is turned off at the bottle when not in use. LPG is heavier than air, so can waft down into the bilges and await the first available opportunity to party. Bilge blowers where fitted should be turned on for at least 4 minutes to evacuate any harmful vapours from the boat before starting the engine. Most blowers are IP rated which means they shouldn’t cause a spark when activated, some are not designed to be left on for long periods of time and themselves can overheat and become a source of fire if left running for extended periods unless specifically designed for such operation.
Gas detectors are always a good idea on the boat and should be allowed to complete their testing cycle prior to starting the engine. Do not activate anything electrical until the gas detector has given the all-clear.
Wiring and appliances are reportedly high up the list as far as menace makers go. Electrical fires are taken so seriously, Marinas are increasingly requiring all boats to have a current Electrical WOF. Most regular boaties probably don’t have the skillset to determine when a few volts are about to sneak onto the squab and begin a smoldering relationship. It is wise to get a trained marine electrician to check the boat over yearly.
Engine and Transmission Overheat:
Engine and transmission overheats cause a staggering number of boat fires and it is therefore very important to ensure you have done everything to minimize this risk. All coolants and lubricants should be regularly checked and topped up. Develop a pre-start check for all cooling valves and cocks. Regular visual checks on all engine belts and friction points are a must. Don’t forget to check your water discharge every time you start your boat. Not only will this alert you to impending doom, but you will also learn the normal water flow rate and will be able to spot signs of a wearing water pump. Lastly don’t forget to keep a regular eye on the temperature gauge and if it goes above normal, there is a reason, so don’t plod on regardless.
Fuel leaks are surprisingly low down the list of insurance statistics I have researched, but they tend to be of the nastier and more vicious variety of fire emergency. I have encountered a myth worryingly regularly that diesel doesn’t burn…. Erm, well, yes it is less volatile then petrol but trust me when I say diesel does in fact burn as that’s kinda the principle of combustion engines! The one good thing about a fuel leak is that there is a reasonable chance you could smell it and rectify the situation early enough
I have been on a few boats that sprang fuel leaks and the minute the smell of pungent fuel passes my nostrils I have an urgent tendency to shut all systems down and immediately locate the XXL fire extinguisher. Only when the source of the fuel odor has been identified and made safe would I continue on passage.
Regularly check all fuel lines and look for dodgy connections and signs of perished/cracked hoses. Checking the condition and security of your fuel tank is also a therapeutic self preserving activity.
As mentioned earlier, ensuring you have enough and appropriate fire extinguishers is an astute insurance policy. Depending on the size and type of vessel will determine what is required. However, considering the bulk of fires have been known to start in the engine space, do you have an auto extinguisher in yours? What would you do with an engine fire? Obviously opening the engine compartment isn’t advised as you would feed the flames with oxygen. This doesn’t really leave you with many options other than choking the air intakes (Do you know where yours are?). Which leads me on to January’s article “How To Abandon A Boat And Live To Tell The Tale”