By Lt. Bill Hempel
United States Power Squadrons
In Florida, a 64-foot yacht that was ravaged by fire burned to the waterline. Follow up stories reported that the boat was presenting a hazard to navigation and was later towed to a nearby marina to be salvaged. There are a few lessons we can learn from this incident.
Obviously, one lesson is to take all of the steps necessary to prevent fire, but when such a yacht is ravaged by fire, we can see just how horrific and all-consuming a boat fire can be. Fortunately, the subject boat was near the coast, where good Samaritans quickly rescued all on board; but had the fire occurred further off shore, the results might have been tragic.
Another positive lesson is the fact that the captain put life jackets on all crew and ordered them overboard. In spite of the romantic notion that a captain goes down with his ship or never gives up the battle to save the boat, this captain did exactly the right thing by abandoning ship. It is always a tough decision to quit fighting a fire and to watch your beloved boat burn to the waterline, but once there is any doubt about putting the fire out, cease all attempts, get your life-jacketed crew overboard, and get as far away as possible before the fire finds any fuel aboard and explodes.
Never overestimate your ability to fight a fire on board a boat. At the first sign of fire have all persons don their life jackets and have someone immediately place a distress call on VHF channel 16. At the same time, display all of your visual distress signals.
Even if the fire is simply a curtain or hot pad smoldering in the galley, it is always better to err on the safe side and apologize for your actions afterwards. A boat fire can grow out of control quickly, and access to life jackets may be blocked. All hands may be too busy or panicked to stop and call for help, or wiring may burn through, rendering all of your electronics unusable.
When all hands have their life jackets on, move them to the farthest area away from the fire. Then turn the boat to keep the flames from blowing back towards the unaffected area. If you are a safe captain, you will know the proper type of fire extinguisher to use for gasoline, alcohol or electrical fires. You also will know the proper way to discharge the extinguisher, and how to aim it at the fire base and to hit it with sweeping short bursts.
Standing on a burning deck is not the time to learn that some extinguishers require shaking or inverting before they will function. Fire prevention and fire emergency training are just a small portion of the lessons taught by the United States Power Squadrons in safe boating classes. Hone up on your boating skills and select a boating safety class. Contact the local unit — Marco Island Sail & Power Squadron — at 239-393-0150 or visit it on the web at www.marcoislandsailandpowersqaudron.org.
The members of the United States Power Squadrons always remind us: “Boating is fun…We’ll show you how!”