Even On Water, Fire Safety Is a Top Priority

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (10/11/97)
By Ray Pendleton

The past week was designated Fire Prevention Week by the Honolulu Fire Department and I can think of few places where fire prevention should be more diligently practiced than aboard a boat.

Given the confined space on a boat and the potential for being miles off shore, a fire would be an extremely frightening experience and would allow those on board only moments to react.

Statistically, the majority of boat fires occur during or soon after refueling and are caused by either mechanical failure or human error during the refueling process. By following the State's safe fueling tips, most of the hazard can be eliminated.

o Before refueling, inspect the boat's entire fuel system for leaks or deterioration, and tighten all connections.
o Always fill portable tanks off of the boat.
o When filling built-in tanks, remove all passengers, shut all hatches and ports, and shut off all engines, motors, and non-spark-proof electrical equipment.
o Keep a fully charged fire extinguisher at hand.
o Maintain metal-to-metal contact of the nozzle with the filler pipe to eliminate the build-up of static electricity.
o Do not overfill, but leave room for expansion of fuel in the tank. dd>o Wipe up all spilled fuel and either air out the rag or store it in a covered metal container.
o When the fueling is completed, always open up all ports and hatches to allow the boat to air out for at least five minutes as gasoline vapors tend to settle in low areas. Only use explosion-proof fans for ventilation.
o Look and smell for leaks and vapors before starting engines.

Other aspects of on-board fire prevention activities begin when a boat is purchased and they should continue through its entire ownership.

As with the fuel system, the electrical system should be routinely inspected for deterioration and the bilges should be checked for oil or fuel which must be removed.

Although most boats are constructed of materials that are flammable, their contents need not add to the fire load. Seat cushions, mattresses, upholstery, carpets and drapes are all available in fire proof or flame resistant materials.

Equipment for cooking is another potential on-board fire source. Always use approved alcohol, kerosene, propane, or electric stoves. Barbecues should be mounted outboard on the boat's railing.

Smoking has always been a major cause of fire and on board a boat it can be even more of a threat than on land. Even when smoking is only allowed above deck, the wind can whip a glowing ash through an open port where it can quickly spark a fire. Smokers must be warned of the hazard.

Along with fire prevention, boaters must always be prepared to extinguish a fire. And although they are surrounded by an abundant source of water, a dry chemical extinguisher is generally more effective on petroleum and electrical fires.

Just as all businesses are required to do, boat owners should have their extinguishers checked annually, even if they are still sealed and the gauges show they are still charged. The only thing more dangerous than having no extinguisher, is having one that doesn't work.

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