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Marine Fire Safety

By B.S.
One of a boat owner’s gravest fears is that of an offshore boat fire. Just as the use and purpose of a boat differs vastly from that of a car or a structure, so too does the risk and danger of an onboard fire. After all a burning boat is miles, not minutes away from professional firefighters. It has no fire escape and no sprinkler system. Nor does it have a convenient road shoulder on which one can park and flee the flames. Instead it is comprised of a small enclosed space in which a fire can spread violently and briskly in a matter of moments. Factor in the danger of fuel tanks exploding, the fact that a boat hull comprised of fiberglass burns vigorously and emits toxic fumes. Then add in a boats limited escape options into the mix, and the terror of an onboard inferno becomes all the more palpable. This is why both amateur and professional mariners should cover all bases in terms of preventing marine fires. Fortunately, the only things needed is a minimal sum of money and an abundance of awareness.
Fuel Fires
Fuel fires outnumber the cause all other boat related fires by two to one. They are also the most avoidable if the following safety procedures are observed when refueling:
Stop the engine and extinguish all cigarettes and open flames
Ensure that all radios and electrical appliances capable of sparking are switched off
Close all hatches, portholes and other openings before fueling begins
Keep the fill nozzle in constant contact with the tank and wipe up all spills
Ventilate  the vessel by opening all hatches portholes and other openings when fueling is complete
Run the blowers for a minimum of four minutes before engaging the engine
Check for petrol fumes in the engine hatch, bilge access ports, and blower intake hose before starting the engine
Electrical Fires
The second most common cause of a boat fire has been attributed to a faulty electrical system. The primary reasons for this ii shoddy or makeshift repairs, as well as do it yourself installation of equipment and wiring. To avoid sparking up an onboard blaze:
Never use electrical tape to repair or splice a wire, instead always use marine approved waterproof butt connectors or waterproof heat-shrink tubing
Whenever possible avoid splicing, always use a single length of the proper gauge wire when making a new, or repairing an old connection
Routinely inspect the vessel’s wiring and electrical system, keeping a weather eye out for corrosion on electrical connections, and worn, cracked, brittle or discolored insulation.
Have all suspect wiring professionally replaced immediately
Preventative Maintenance
Poor equipment maintenance is another frequent offender in regard to starting boat related fires. It should go without saying that constant vigilance, fire prevention inspections, and adhering to manufacturer’s suggested maintenance schedules will all help prevent a devastating boat blaze. 
  • If the boat’s been dormant for a prolonged period or at the start of the boating season go over every inch of the vessels equipment with a fine tooth comb
  • Focus heavily on both the fuel and the electrical systems
  • Inspect all electrical and fuel connections ensuring that both the wires and lines are sound and leak free
  • Check that all fuel hose clamps are secure, but not so tight that they cut into the fuel line
  • Scrutinize metal fuel tanks for signs of corrosion and that none of its mounting connections have vibrated loose. Examine plastic tanks for any signs of swelling, bulging or discoloration
  • Repair or replace anything that is suspect
Other Fire Prevention Methods
In addition to the above every boat should have:
  • An approved personal floatation device for each passenger and crew member
  • A smoke alarm whenever applicable. Its early warning can prevent toxic smoke inhalation, provide adequate time to extinguish a fire, give you the time to alert emergency services or ensure that you safely abandon ship. Be sure to test the alarm at regular intervals and that it always contains working batteries
  • An adequate number of fire extinguishers commensurate with the size and type of vessel. Make sure that they are of the correct type, properly positioned, and inspected and refilled as recommended by the manufacturer
  • Keep tall decks and compartment clear of rags, rubbish, and easily ignited refuse
  • Finally store all spare fuel, oil and cleaning solvents in a well ventilated, secure and fireproof container away from the engine compartment and all electrical connections
In the Event of a Fire
Don’t panic, move away from the fire, assemble the passengers and crew on deck in their floatation devices. If time permits, switch off the engine fuel and all electrical components and contact emergency services. If the fire is beyond your control, do not attempt to recover anything of value and abandon ship immediately.