As a marine fire-protection specialist, I wondered, after reading “The final voyage of Sandpiper” (April/May 2017), where
were the smoke alarms or other means of early-warning
detection? Ed and Annette weren’t able to get ahead of this
fire, lost their boat, and almost lost their lives. Had they
known about it two, three, five minutes earlier, the outcome
might have been different.
Smoke alarms have substantially reduced the loss of life
and property worldwide since the mid 1970s. More than 80
percent of fires discovered by smoke alarms are extinguished
by the occupants or other nearby non-fire-service personnel –
an opportunity boaters often don’t have.
Unfortunately, there are no UL “marine-listed” smoke
alarms, and only limited selection and options for UL
RV-listed alarms. But UL household-listed smoke alarms
are a reasonable option, even though they’re not tested to the
marine environment. The U.S. Coast Guard, in its recently
released Subchapter M requirements, allows UL household
devices to be installed in the berthing places aboard tugboats.
ISO 9094, an international marine fire-protection standard,
also allows the installation of household-tested non-marine
devices on boats.
Household alarms, installed in the dry spaces of a boat,
properly maintained, and with working batteries, should provide a reasonable opportunity for fire protection. On my aft-cabin powerboat, for instance, I use six alarms interconnected
by radio frequency. If I’m underway on the bridge and something goes amiss in the engine room, all six devices, including
the one under my helm, will go off and state “smoke in the
Lessons from boat fires
“We took my
7-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte,
for her first boat
ride out on New
Bay. She simply
loved it, as you
can see from the
expression on her
face,” writes Jim
Fairness Hills, PA.
FRIENDLY TAG-ALONG “We were cruising the Beaufort
River when we started seeing dolphins,” writes David Adkins
of Beaufort, South Carolina. “One dolphin was tailgating us. A
second appeared, and they followed us for about five minutes.”
basement.” Smoke alarms should be replaced every seven to 10
years or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The writer, a 25-year U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain, is chairman of the National Fire Protection Association 302 Watercraft
Technical Committee, which develops fire-protection standards for
boats, and a member of the American Boat & Yacht Council and
the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. He’s also a yacht broker
at Bluewater Yacht Sales in Maryland.
The article describing the loss of Sandpiper to a fire off-
shore is a real wake-up call. I’m a professional mariner on
board an oil tanker, and we have required training in firefight-
ing. The statement that I most often repeat during drills is “A
fire doubles in size every 60 seconds.” Obviously this means
you must work swiftly to save your vessel should a fire break
out on board. So everybody on board needs some type of
training in recognizing the source of the fire and to know the
location and use of all firefighting gear.
As for Sandpiper’s crew, I noted in the Epilogue they were
intending to install a firefighting system consisting of hoses
connected to the freshwater system on their new boat. I
applaud their intent, but if they can manage it, I would recommend a separate pump that draws water from the surrounding
sea rather than from their freshwater system. This gives an
unlimited supply of water to use against the fire. Also, it pre-