Home | Advertise | Issues | Fishing Info | Tournaments | Buy a Photo | Delivery Locations | Merch | Send a Photo

Vol 46 | Num 19 | Sep 8, 2021

The Offshore Report Ocean City Report Chum Lines Delaware Report Ship to Shore The Galley Issue Photos
Ship to Shore

Article by Capt. Steve Katz

The last few articles have reviewed first aid and insurance, unfortunately these topics became more relevant with recent trouble on the water in our area. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all.

In keeping the recent themes, this week’s article will review boat fires and their causes.

Fire was ranked 5th on the Geico/Boat US insurance company causes for boat loss claims (2015-2019). It’s not too surprising, since a boat contains all the ingredients in close quarters needed for a fire; generally referred to the “fire triangle”, heat, oxygen, and fuel.

When these three elements are combined – a fire begins. The good news is if you can remove one of these three components from an existing fire, the fire ceases to exist, that is generally the job of a fire extinguisher. As we all know, boat fires are preventable even though we cruise along the water with the elements the fire triangle, the key to preventing fires is to regularly maintain your boats system and only install and modify systems with approved products and methods.

Thankfully, the USCG statistics from accident investigations show that fire is not often a cause of a boat accident, injury, or death- they report collisions, flooding, grounding, and falls are the top USCG reported accident types.

Surprisingly, Geico/BoatUS insurance company reports that more than 25% boats burn when something else goes up in flames — “the marina, the storage facility, the house, the garage, the barn, the neighbor's house. In more than 70% of those cases, it's the marina that burns. A high percentage of those fires start on someone else's boat. That means that every boat owner has a responsibility to prevent fires on board, not just to keep his or her boat safe, but also to keep the people, boats, and property around it safe.”

Learning about the historical causes of the remaining 75% boat fires can help you prepare for but more importantly prevent fires on your boat. Not surprising, fuel and electrical systems were the main areas that caused boat fires in the Geico/Boat US insurance company findings.

Batteries – You might think that loose battery connections, chafed battery cables and aged battery switches cause fires aboard, they do but the most common cause of battery-related fires is operator error when working with batteries. Incorrectly connecting or re-connecting the battery and cables can cause sparks, shorts or even battery explosions, which can all start a fire.

Along with batteries, wiring harnesses and starters cause a disproportionate number of fires on boats that are more than 25 years old. BoatUS recommends that if you have a vintage boat and those parts are original, consider replacing them.

An interruption of engine cooling water can lead to overheating and then to a fire. Overheating can be caused by impeller failures due to age or sediment in the water. If your engine overheats, check the engine compartment before getting underway again. Change your impeller regularly or after a grounding or when operating in particularly dirty waters.

Connecting your boat to electrical power on land, referred to as shore power, is common but has been shown to be a popular source of fire. Boat US says most AC electrical fires start somewhere between the marina pedestal and the shore power inlet on the boat. BoatUS has long recommended using only marine-grade power cords with proper adapters and replacing them at the first sign of wear on the cord or pitting on the blades of the plug. Analysis of BoatUS fire claims has identified another high-risk area on boats more than 10 years old: the back of the shore power inlet where the ship's wiring connects to the shore power inlet terminals. BoatUS recommends replacing the shore power inlet on older boats if it is original, or at least inspecting the connections in an effort to prevent overheating and fire.

Outboard powered boats inherently allow an engine fire to be immediately visible to those on board, unlike an inboard powered boats where a fire below decks may go unnoticed until too big to control.

BoatUS has found that on older outboards, the voltage regulator is by far the most common cause of fires. The failure rate increases with age after 10 years. So, if your outboard is at least 15 years old, replacing the regulator may well keep you from having a bad day on the water.

Proper maintenance and regular inspections can help identify issues that can become a future cause for a fire. Checking all systems after an event such as collision, grounding, water leak, flooding etc. is a good idea to help identify a compromised system that could cause a fire. Next week we will review fire prevention systems - extinguishers and shut down systems etc.

Until next time...
Stay Grounded

Coastal Fisherman Merch
CF Merch



Buy a Photo