Why do fires happen on boats?

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Fires aboard boats ranks very highly on insurance claim registers around the globe and looking at why these fires occur can be boiled down to six major contributing factors. Here are the top fire causers on boats and hints on how you can avoid them.

Nearly a quarter of all boat fires are caused by outside sources such as another boat on fire in the marina, a neighbour’s garage that catches alight and other outside influences. This type of fire is beyond the influence of the boat owner who has little or no possibility of taking action to prevent it.

Approximately 20% of boat fires are caused by faulty engine electrical appointments and wiring. Older boats often fall prey to faulty wiring harnesses, which are the cause of fires.

At least 15% of fires on boats can be apportioned to battery-related fires. Faulty battery installation, reversal of the positive and negative cables, or connecting the batteries in series when they should be in parallel are the most common causes of battery fires. Battery cables should be labeled or marked and connected correctly to avoid fires.

12% Of fires on boats start between the boat’s shore power inlet and the shore power pedestal. Make sure you inspect the shore power cord regularly, placing emphasis on the connector ends. If the cord and the connector ends are showing signs of wear, it might be time to replace it.

burn shore power cord

Approximately 9% of boat fires are caused by the engine overheating, most often due to blocked raw water intakes or damaged impellers. Always replace the impeller per the manufacturer’s servicing suggestions and always keep an eye on the heat status of the motor.

On older outboard motors, close to 10% of boat fires are due to the failure of the voltage regulator. Replacing old voltage regulators is an important deterrent for preventing fires.

Other sources of fire on boats happen during the refueling of the boat and to a lesser degree when cooking and smoking aboard. Exhaust system fires are almost always started when something flammable comes into contact with the exhaust. Most fuel-related fires are caused by leaks that come from old and worn hoses that fail. One way of detecting fuel leaks is regularly wiping down fuel lines and smelling the rag for residual fuel. Tighten any loose hose clamps to stop leakage and if the leak persists, replace the hose. Remember, hoses usually begin to leak gradually as the hose materials start to degrade and lose its elasticity.

Smoke detectors should be installed on larger boats that have living quarters, a galley and head, to be an early warning system. An alarm and a warning light connected to the smoke detector will allow the captain to become aware of a fire while at the helm.

Having the necessary fire extinguishing equipment on board the boat is critical for fire suppression. Ensure that this equipment receives its regular service requirements to ensure it functions properly in the event of a fire. There are various types of fire extinguishers designed for fuel-based fires, combustibles such as wood and paper, and lastly electrical fires.

Your boat is an important asset and one that you don’t want going up in flames. Take the necessary precautions to prevent a fire on your boat and ensure that your insurance is in place, because a major portion of boating fires comes from outside sources.

boat fire extinguisher

10 quick ways to reduce your fire risk:

1. Inspect all electrical connections and tighten any loose connections. Make sure all wiring that needs it has chafe protection.

2. Check battery wiring, clean the terminals, switches and connectors regularly to remove any dirt.

3. If your boat is more than 20 years old, it might be time to replace the wiring harness.

4. Replace old and worn shore power cords.

5. Check the shore power inlet and replace if the terminal or wiring shows signs of corrosion.

6. Don’t ever leave an electric heater on when nobody is aboard the boat.

7. Use a good quality marine battery charger for your boat.

8. Change your impeller per manufacturer’s specification to avoid overheating.

9. The exhaust manifold should be replaced when it shows signs of pinhole corrosion or approximately every five years.

10. Do not use oil based lamps to light the boat as they can fall and break, causing fires.


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