A fire extinguisher’s ABC
rating indicates the type
of fire that it
can put out. A:
flammable liquids (gasoline,
It gets bad quickly: In each fire, you’d have three or four minutes – to make a VHF radio mayday call, locate and use xtinguishers, don life jackets, and prepare to abandon ship — before likely being
DSC. Having a working VHF with
digital selective calling is critical. DSC
messages provide coordinates, so anyone
aboard can summon help and give rescuers your location by pressing the radio’s
red distress button. A waterproof handheld VHF with DSC is a smart idea as well,
because in the event of a fire, an installed
VHF will probably lose its power source
quickly or be inaccessible.
Fire drill. Do your guests know how to
use the radio? The location of the fire extinguishers? Do they wear or keep life jackets
close by? Do they know how to shut off the
electrical system quickly? A five-minute
guest briefing improves fire safety.
Water drill. Beyond flotation and
waterproof handheld VHFs, personal locator beacons, flares, and other signaling
tools provide a lifeline from the water.
Fire extinguishers. How many do you
carry? Are they accessible in seconds? Are
they rated ABC for all fires? Having several
ABC tri-class extinguishers that go beyond
the minimum U.S. Coast Guard requirements could save you and your boat.
Built-in support. An engine-com-partment fire-suppression system or, at
minimum, an installed engine fire port into
which you can discharge fire extinguishers
can both contribute to the quick extinguishing of a fire, or at least buy you time
in your fight against an engine-room fire.
PASS. Follow these four steps when
using a fire extinguishers: Pull the safety
pin. Aim the extinguisher at the base of
the fire. Squeeze the handle. Sweep the
hose from side to side while discharging.
Life jackets. Many boaters bury them
among the gear, then waste precious time
locating them in an emergency. Regulations
say that if jackets are not worn on board,
they must be readily accessible.
Exit route. Can you get out of the
boat if the exit is blocked by fire? Carpet,
headliner, cushions, curtains, and other
flammables ignite when introduced to an
The power of prevention. Are your
electrical and fuel systems maintained to
American Boat & Yacht Council ( ABYC.org)
standards? Electrical faults are the No. 1
cause of boat fires. What’s the condition of
your fuel lines? If they’re 10 years old or
emit a gas smell from a rag rubbed down
their length, replace them.
Refueling. How many minutes should
you wait to start the engine after filling
up at the fuel dock? Answer: At least four,
with the blower on and windows and doors/
hatches open for the entire time. End the
four-minute period with a sniff test. — S.C.
Lessons learned from the BoatU.S. burn tests
The loss of Sandpiper, in the previous story, may seem like a freak occur- rence, something you may figure wouldn’t happen to you on your boat. But think about these situations: a lone fire extinguisher buried deep inside a forward locker; corroded electrical connections; deteriorated fuel lines that smell of gas; a GPS that has yet to be coupled to the DSC VHF radio. BoatU.S. Marine Insurance claims statistics show that the most common onboard source of boat fires is AC and DC electrical, followed by engine exhaust/overheat and fuel issues. All can
produce the same devastating consequences as in the Sandpiper scenario.
Our nonprofit BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety & Clean Water set up
a demonstration to capture three dramatic fires on video for a Foundation public-service announcement designed to urge boaters to improve fire safety on their
vessels. Attending were fire-safety experts and investigators, firefighters from the
Huntingtown, Maryland, Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and boat-rigging specialists and members of the boating press.
These three fires were set on derelict boats obtained by the BoatU.S. Foundation,
to emulate three common origins of recreational boat fires: electrical, engine room,
and galley. Each of the test boats had empty fuel tanks and, in some cases, had their
engines removed. The scenarios were designed to simulate common sources of boat
fires using a range of combustibles to ignite each blaze. It was easy to imagine the
results if the vessels’ fuel tanks had been full and if boaters had been aboard. Each boat
was set on blocks outside the fire department’s burn-training facility. Small holes were C O