Fire on board a vessel is perhaps a boat-owner’s worst nightmare – and good housekeeping goes a long way towards prevention.
Following a fire aboard a vessel at Waikawa Marina in late summer, we thought it timely to highlight ways of reducing the risk of fire and explosion on board your vessel. The vessel concerned had an inboard petrol engine, and had just finished refuelling. The launch was fitted with a good blower ventilation system. But unbeknown to the owner, a vent from the fuel tank had corroded and allowed fuel vapours to enter the bilge. Ready to move away from the fuel berth, the skipper started the engine and this triggered a significant explosion. Two passengers were seriously injured and the launch suffered significant damage.
- The engine, it’s associated electrical and fuel systems and the exhaust system of your vessel are principle fire dangers.
- Consider fitting both bilge blowers and gas detectors in the bilge.
- Fit drip trays beneath the engine and gear box to catch any fuel or oil and prevent it from collecting in the bilges.
- Install guards around all rotating engine parts including the shaft to avoid oil being picked up and sprayed around.
- Regularly inspect the bilges in the engine space and the drip trays for fuel, oil or rubbish.
- There must be at least one isolating valve between the fuel tank and the engine, in case of a broken fuel line or an outbreak of fire and to allow filters to be changed.
- Frequently check all tanks, fuel lines, valves and connections for signs of movement, looseness and corrosion. If a tank or fitting is corroded, don’t patch it up – replace it.
- All fuel lines should be well secured and made of approved materials. Flexible lines should be heavy-duty and metal braided.
- Run all fuel lines well clear of the electrical system.
- Protect the area around the engine so that oil does not permeate woodwork and create a fire hazard.
- Fit flame arresters to carburettor intakes and fuel vents.
- Don’t use petrol or kerosene for cleaning in the engine space.
- Keep all exhaust pipework clear of woodwork or bodywork that is liable to catch fire. Lag pipes to reduce heat transfer.
- Keep your electrical system and batteries in safe working condition, and check for chaffing and signs of burning.
- Dispose of oily rags – they can and do spontaneously combust.
- Carry an appropriately sized fire extinguisher, and service it once a year.