By Keith Wohltman
“Four boaters were rescued from the waters near Surfside, Texas as their boat burned Sunday afternoon (February 19, 2017),” according to the US Coast Guard. You read headlines like this and wonder what you would do if a fire broke out on your boat. How would you handle the situation?
The first line of defense against fires on your boat is a fire extinguisher. Of course, you know all about fire extinguishers, right? Perhaps they came with your boat when you bought it, or you remember a fire safety demonstration you attended some years ago. But do you know if your extinguishers are appropriate for your boat and how to use them? When was the last time you checked them?
Any fire onboard a boat has the potential to destroy the boat or cause significant injury to you or your passengers. You need to know the right type of fire extinguisher and proper size, and how to use it.
Firefighting on a recreational boat is dangerous and should only be attempted if the fire is small and in its early stage. You have about two minutes to detect and fight a boat fire. The size of your fire extinguishers limits their effectiveness. A typical small marine fire extinguisher has a discharge time of only about eight to ten seconds, and that is not much time to fight a fire.
If underway and a fire starts, position the boat so the fire is downwind and then stop the boat. Shut down all systems. Have everyone not already wearing a lifejacket put one on. Try to turn off the fuel source, if safe to do so. Then grab the extinguisher. While you fight the fire, have one of your crew make a mayday call to the Coast Guard on VHF-FM Channel 16. Have the crew move to the opposite end of the boat, usually the bow. Be prepared to abandon ship if the fire gets out of control.
PWC operators need to take special care in case of fire. Their fire extinguishers may not be easily accessible when fire strikes. Because of this, they should swim away quickly and use another PWC’s extinguisher. PWC operators “should not open the engine compartment” to put out the fire.
Boats with an enclosed engine compartment that use gasoline for electrical generation, mechanical power, or propulsion are required to be equipped with a ventilation system. The ventilation system can be a natural ventilation system or a powered ventilation system. A powered system is required for each compartment in a boat that has a permanently installed gasoline engine with a cranking motor for remote starting. A powered ventilation system consists of one or more exhaust blowers.
Warning: Gasoline vapors can explode. Before starting the engine, operate the blower at least four minutes and check the engine compartment bilge for gasoline vapors.
All boat owners are responsible for keeping their vessel’s ventilation systems in operating condition. This means making sure openings are free of obstructions, ducts and ducting are not blocked or torn, blowers operate properly, and worn components are replaced with equivalent marine-type equipment.
Remember to clean your bilges and keep them free of debris or trash. This will reduce the risk of fire.
Please use common sense and do not smoke while fueling the boat.
For more information about safe boating courses contact Joe Riccio at 239-384-7416 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule your FREE Vessel Safety Check, please call John Moyer at 239-248-7078 or Coast Guard Auxiliary Station – Flotilla 95, 239-394-5911 or email John at Jmoyer1528@aol.com. For those interested in joining Flotilla 95, USCG Auxiliary, please call Bob Shmihluk at 215-694-3305.