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Monday, April 07, 2008

The Scariest Thing Aboard -- A Fire!

That's the Superferry 14 above. More on that disaster here.

On a much smaller scale but equally tragic for the families is the fire that cost two people their lives on Tampa Bay on Saturday:

The Coast Guard recovered the bodies of two boaters from Tampa Bay Saturday while initial reports suggested a third person might still be missing. Latest news confirms there were only two. A MAYDAY in Spanish had been received by the Coast Guard 8:30 that evening. Rescue crews found the bodies and then the fire damaged boat about 30 minutes later.

The same day, two people were airlifted to safety after their vessel caught fire off the Yorkshire Coast in England. The two passengers suffered from minor smoke inhalation. The vessel's captain stayed aboard and brought the fire under control. Coast Guardsmen later towed the vessel to a safe haven.

Fires aboard a vessel are about the scariest of all marine emergency situations. Landlubbers might think sinking would be the scariest, but when you have a fire you automatically also have a potential sinking situation.

Believe it or not, the most common causes of fires on a small boats or yachts is not what you might think. I'll bet if you ask a group of professional mariners what causes the most fires, the top five answers will include improperly discarded cigarettes, galley or grease fires, electrical shorts, sparks during fueling, and improperly stored rags and/or chemicals. In fact, while it is all these things, the root cause of most fires is an owner doing substandard work on his or her own vessel, whether the work is initial construction, fitting-out, retrofitting or maintenance.

Rule of thumb: Don't assume you can fix, rebuild, move or do without something on a boat just because you've done the same thing in your house. Everything on a boat moves, shifts, vibrates and chafes. Almost all marine electrical and mechanical systems are potential catalysts. They're also in close proximity to volatile substances. It's a simple formula: Fuel + Ignition = Fire. Even substances not considered volatile, like wire insulation, hose cover and even metals, will provide fuel if the fire gets hot enough.

So be forewarned. Don't be too quick to make system changes or modifications on the boat yourself, not unless you know precisely what what you're doing. At the very least, have an expert or professional look over your work before you head out to sea.


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