/55 to view
video of the
boat burn and
to learn more
drilled for camera installation and for fire-hose water to drain. With cameras rolling,
a video crane aloft, and fire crews ready at the hoses, each fire was ignited.
Electrical The first fire was set
aboard a small, outboard-powered
center-console, Habanero, with the “
electrical” fire starting inside the console.
Of all of the boats torched in the name
of boating safety that day, the 16-foot
fishing boat with outboard motor best
showed that there is no truly no place
to hide on a small boat. Just four min-
utes after ignition, smoke turned from
white to black as flames rolled out from under the wheel, threatening anyone who
remained aboard. In less than 10 minutes, the heat was so intense that the boat’s
aluminum rail melted into a puddle, along with a cooler and a 10-gallon external
plastic gas tank. The fishing boat had no enclosed compartments and was equipped
with an external gas tank, so there was no mandatory requirement to carry a fire
extinguisher. This means that buckets of water would have been the only hope for
extinguishing the blaze before it rapidly grew out of control.
Engine compartment Next,
a fire was set aboard a typical inboard/
outboard-powered cuddy-cabin 23-foot-
er, Cayenne. An electric match set upon
a small amount of gasoline ignited a
spaghetti-like shredded-wood product
called “excelsior,” which stood in for the
inboard motor, much in the way fuel
and oil would contribute to an engine-
compartment fire. For engine room/
Four minutes from ignition, the only safe spot on this boat, and for only a few
moments more, was the bow deck. Two minutes later, as temperatures soared and
flames licked forward between the helm seats, the boat’s windshield shattered.
Galley Trained firefighters lit the
galley window drapes of the biggest
boat, Jalapeno, a 25-foot inboard/
outboard-powered cruiser, with a flare,
simulating a typical cooktop fire. After
just three minutes, heavy black smoke
at the helm of the cruiser left that location a questionable place to survive.
Four minutes later, the entire boat was
fully engulfed. The crew’s only option
would have been to jump overboard.
There’s no requirement for recreational vessels to be equipped with working smoke
detectors or alarms, even though each of these fires burned undetected for precious
minutes. The amount of black smoke that emerged from each fire was huge. The
National Fire Protection Association recommends smoke detectors on all boats 26
feet and larger with sleeping areas.
Ed Staples, a retired physicist, and his wife, Annette Alexander, a retired schoolteacher, have cruised
to Mexico the last eight years along a
route following the Southern California
ports. The loss of Sandpiper was covered by their insurance policy, and they
recently purchased a 2006 Catalina
Morgan 44. Their “new” boat will be
temperature sensor in the engine compartment
with a gauge at the helm station, and
50-foot collapsible fabric hoses in the
fore and aft heads that will be plugged
into the freshwater system. “Chances
are it won’t happen again,” Staples says.
“But just in case, we’re ready for it.” (See
“Red-Hot Turbos,” p. 105.)