Fire aboard ship has always been a dreaded and often fatal experience. For large ships, it is the second largest hazard for crew and passengers.
For us small guys, it can be just as serious.
Today, we are going to discuss steps we can take to prevent a fire.
Next week, we will look at some responses to a fire.
There are actions to take, or to avoid, that can reduce the risk of an onboard fire. First, let's look at the boat's fuel. Because most of our boats burn gasoline, we will address that fuel. (Diesel is also flammable but not as easily ignited. Once burning, though, it creates an intense blaze.)
The chance of a fuel fire is heightened when refueling. The fumes from gasoline are highly flammable. There are some precautions you can take to deal with fumes:
- If your boat has an enclosed cabin, close all of the windows and doors before refueling. That way no fumes can get into that part of your boat.
- Frequently check your fuel lines and connections for leaks and worn spots.
- Be sure your engine and all electrical devices are turned off.
- When gasoline passes through the hose, it generates static electricity. If that "sparks" with the fumes at the fuel tank fill point, an explosion can occur. To dissipate the static electricity, keep the metal nozzle of the hose in contact with the metal part of the refueling opening, to ground the system.
- Try not to spill any fuel. Not only does this add to the danger of fire, but you also are legally responsible for spills.
- Once fueling is complete, securely fasten the gas cap and open up all windows and doors to ventilate.
- If you have an inboard or inboard/outboard engine, run the bilge blower. That is a fan located in the bottom of the bilge, where gasoline fumes can accumulate because gas is heavier than air. Run the fan for four minutes.
It is also good advice to run this blower before any engine start, because even a small leak can produce lots of fumes.
- Obviously, no smoking anywhere near the boat is the rule when fueling.
- Use your nose! Gasoline has a distinct odor and even a small amount can be smelled at some distance. If you smell gas, shut everything down and find the source.
Another fire hazard is cooking fires, either from propane tanks, stoves or grills. Be sure all connections are tight. Have one of your fire extinguishers close to the galley.
There are some laws addressing the proper number and size of the fire extinguishers on your boat. Boats less than 26 feet must have at least one B-1 extinguisher. Boats between 26 feet and less than 40 feet must have two B-1s or one B-2.
When buying your extinguishers, buy the ones that have "ABC" printed on them. They will put out combustible material and liquids, such as gasoline or grease, and electrical fires.
The number indicates the capacity -- II is larger than I. As to how many and what size to buy, more and larger is the way to go.
To learn more about this subject and other important boating safety topics, enroll in the next boating safety class presented by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 27.
For details, contact me at (864) 391-2170 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jay Weidman at (800) 533-3478, ext. 1172.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at email@example.com.
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