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Old 09-13-2019, 07:05 AM   #1
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Fire

Most boat owners in the US, and many elsewhere, have heard about the recent tragic dive boat fire in Southern California, with the resultant loss of life. Many of my clients and readers have inquired about regulations regarding fire, firefighting, smoke alarms and escape routes.

Like most others in this industry I anxiously await the full NTSB report, which will hopefully detail the cause of the fire. At the moment there is speculation that it may have been caused by rechargeable lithium ion battery, like that used in a phone or camera (it was a dive boat so no doubt there were many underwater cameras, lights etc, all with Li Ion batteries). I've encountered overheated Li Ion batteries, having had one catch fire in the toolbox of my pick-up truck on one occasion a few years ago.

Until the full report (a preliminary report has been released, the link is included here) is released all we can do is speculate. However, there are things you can do to prevent such a tragedy aboard your own vessel.

Make sure you have working, up to date (most common battery-powered household units are OK to use aboard, with some caveats, see link below, however, they should be replaced every 5 years) smoke detectors with fresh batteries. You should have one on both sides of every door, as well as in engineering spaces, and behind electrical panels. The last time I wrote about this was after another tragic onboard fire.

https://stevedmarineconsulting.com/s...oke-detectors/

Make sure you have fire extinguishers, more than the USCG-required minimum. They are relatively inexpensive, you should have one in every cabin, and no fire extinguisher should be more than three large steps away.

https://stevedmarineconsulting.com/p...created-equal/

Make certain your fixed engine room and other engineering space fire extinguishers are up to date, inspected, and pressure gauges are in the green. I recently inspected a 3 year old vessel, whose safety pins had never been removed from fire extinguishers in the engine room and machinery space; which means neither of these units could have been discharged manually.



Preliminary NTSB report: https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/...ary-report.pdf

Recent Coast Guard Safety bulletin

https://images.saymedia-content.com/...y-bulletin.pdf

ABYC is silent on escape routes, but NFPA 302 isnít, it says...

NFPA 302, Fire Protection Standard for Pleasure and Commercial Motor Craft, 2010 Edition

Chapter 4 Hull
4.1 General Arrangement.
4.1.1
The hull shall be arranged so that all compartments are accessible and all escape hatches are unobstructed and readily accessible.
4.1.1.1
Every boat having enclosed accommodation spaces shall have a readily accessible and unobstructed means of egress.
4.1.1.2
Every boat having enclosed accommodation spaces shall have a second accessible means of egress if it is possible for one exit to
be blocked by a fire in a galley or machinery area.
4.1.1.3
The means of egress in 4.1.1.1 and 4.1.1.2 shall provide for minimum clear opening dimensions of 14 in. ◊ 18 in. (36.8 cm ◊ 47
cm) (rectangular); or 18 in. (45.7 cm) diameter (circular); or 270 in.2 (1741 cm2) with a minimum dimension of 141
⁄2 in. (36.8 cm)
(oval).
4.1.1.4
Any hatch that is required for egress shall have a means of being operated from the inside and a means of being operated from the
outside when not secured from the inside.
4.1.1.5
All hinged hatches shall have a means or method to support the hatch in an open position
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Old 09-13-2019, 08:20 AM   #2
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I particularly like this part of Steve's post .....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve DAntonio View Post
.......................
You should have one on both sides of every door, as well as in engineering spaces, and behind electrical panels. The last time I wrote about this was after another tragic onboard fire...............
Reading Causes of Boat fires - BoatUS and other sources DC electrical is the greatest cause of fires. I'll be putting a smoke detector in the electrical cabinet.
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Old 09-13-2019, 08:48 AM   #3
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It will be interesting to see if they can identify the cause of the fire. As an avid technical diver, it would seem to me the more likely cause would be a lithium battery powered canister light or scooter battery. The canister lights can be in excess of 20 amp hours, but the scooter batteries can be as large as a car battery. While the numbers of both in their largest sizes are relatively small, there have been incidents with both starting fires. The problem with some of the lithium type batteries is that once a cell starts burning, the fire feeds very quickly off of the rest of the battery pack. With the large scooter batteries, trying to charge them in a shorter time requires higher amperage chargers, which can heat up a faulty cell faster. Lots of increased risk with lithium batteries.

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Old 09-13-2019, 08:59 AM   #4
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Toxic gases are produced when many modern materials burn. As an example, the gases from burning plastic pipe can kill everyone in a room. Survivors have reported an inability to move even though they were aware of the fire and the need to run. They were paralyzed by the toxins and would burn to death if not rescued.


http://web.mit.edu/parmstr/Public/NR.../cbd144_e.html
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Old 09-13-2019, 10:08 AM   #5
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Good advice!

In my experience, the weakest link is not the batteries, it is the chargers, cabling & connectors that are used to charge batteries on board. I have upgraded all on my boat after a cheap thin cable got kinked at the connector, got hot, and started to let the smoke out of the wire.

If the device you are charging (like a phone) shows a message like "slow charging" that means the cable and/or charger are limiting out on voltage/current (bad!) So feel around to see of any of the parts are hot/warm.

If you are leaving devices on at night (like anchor alarms, for example) be sure those devices are securely mounted to the boat and the parts are not hot during normal operation.
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Old 09-13-2019, 10:19 AM   #6
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Correction, there's an error in my previous post, it should have said, "ABYC isn't silent on this subject..." It is covered in chapter H3

3.5.1 Enclosed accommodation compartments or designated sleeping compartments shall have:
3.5.1.1 a readily accessible and unobstructed means of exit, and
3.5.1.2 a second readily accessible means of exit to the open air if the main exit leads through or over an engine space or directly past a cooking appliance.
3.5.2 The means of exit shall have the following minimum clearing characteristics:
3.5.2.1 circular shape: diameter of at least 18 in (457 mm),
3.5.2.2 any other shape: a minimum dimension of 14.5 in (368 mm) and minimum area of 270 in2 (0.174 m2). The exit shall be large enough for a 14.5 in (368 mm) diameter circle to be inscribed.
NOTE: The circle should be inscribed after taking in consideration any restrictions including hinges, latches, and stays, etc.
3.5.2.3. The vertical distance to the means of exit shall not exceed 47.5 in (1.2 m). If cushions or mattresses are below the means of exit, the distance is taken from the compressed material.
3.5.2.4 Any hatch that is required for a means of exit shall have a means of being operated from the inside, and from the outside when secured and unlocked.
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Old 09-13-2019, 01:57 PM   #7
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With the possible culprit being thought to be portable device Li-ion batteries, how should we feel about using much bigger Li-ion house batteries. Seems to me that if there is risk of fire/explosion with small Li-ions then there may be a risk of much bigger fire/explosion while charging, say, an 8D Li-ion.
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Old 09-13-2019, 02:19 PM   #8
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From SteveDs post

Make certain your fixed engine room and other engineering space fire extinguishers are up to date, inspected, and pressure gauges are in the green. I recently inspected a 3 year old vessel, whose safety pins had never been removed from fire extinguishers in the engine room and machinery space; which means neither of these units could have been discharged manually.

Before I retired from the CG Aux, I did vessel safety check and almost never found a fixed system that was up to date on the inspection. The only ones that I found up to date were people that had just taken a boating safety class from the auxiliary. A friend had a boat he stored by mine. Each year he would take both our halon bottles to a certified inspection company. He sold his boat this year and asked me to represent him during the survey. The surveyor was amazed when he checked the halon. He said it was the first one in over 10 years that was up to date inspection wise.

This is something that everyone should take seriously since the only way to make sure the halon is still in the bottle is to weigh it. It costs me $10 for the yearly inspection.
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Old 09-13-2019, 02:28 PM   #9
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Appreciate the timely and thoughtful post, Steve!
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Old 09-13-2019, 02:54 PM   #10
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With todays technology it makes sense to incorporate smoke detectors as Steve indicated in the engine room, and behind electrical panels.

These can be difficult to hear from a berth maybe 40 feet away and behind a couple of doors.

A great solution is to use smoke alarms that wirelessly network together so that when one detects smoke they all alert, or that they trigger a loud siren.
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Old 09-13-2019, 05:29 PM   #11
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I just ordered 4 wireless smoke detectors. I may end up putting one more up on the flybridge so we can hear them underway.
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Old 09-13-2019, 05:45 PM   #12
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Question for all the electrical guru guys out there.
You hear a lot about "electrical purity" from gensets and the effect on today's electronics. Would that have any bearing on the charging of LI batteries?
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Old 09-13-2019, 07:51 PM   #13
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Many fires start from overloaded circuits. A good preventative program is to read your power panel and other connections with a hand held temperature reading gun.
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Old 09-13-2019, 08:30 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrisjs View Post
With the possible culprit being thought to be portable device Li-ion batteries, how should we feel about using much bigger Li-ion house batteries. Seems to me that if there is risk of fire/explosion with small Li-ions then there may be a risk of much bigger fire/explosion while charging, say, an 8D Li-ion.



Lithium house batteries are generally LiFeP04 (Lithium Iron Phosphate), not standard Lithium ion. If you research the difference, you will find that LiFeP04 are much safer than other Lithium batteries.
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Old 09-13-2019, 08:37 PM   #15
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I wanted to clarify that the wireless smoke / CO detectors do NOT need WiFi. They link to themselves through their own system. I just bought 8 new smoke/CO detectors (Kidde) due to the fact that I’d never hear an alarm in the bow, if I was in the aft cabin. Now, if one alarm goes off, they ALL go off. They are powered by their own battery and are super easy to install. You can buy them by the pair from Home Depot for about $80.
Money well spent.
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Old 09-13-2019, 08:56 PM   #16
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A fire extinguisher cylinder, full or empty, would make a good window breaking tool if it comes to that.
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Old 09-13-2019, 11:26 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Comodave View Post
I just ordered 4 wireless smoke detectors. I may end up putting one more up on the flybridge so we can hear them underway.
Good idea!

As Steve pointed out a smoke detector behind your electrical panel is a Great idea!

I am a firm believer that many or most things that catch on fire on a boat smoke first, and catching a fire in the smoke phase might just save your boat or your life.
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Old 09-13-2019, 11:35 PM   #18
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Quote:
. I recently inspected a 3 year old vessel, whose safety pins had never been removed from fire extinguishers in the engine room and machinery space; which means neither of these units could have been discharged manually
Why would not have removing the pins prevent using them?
Over here the pins are held in with light fishing line easily broken when pulling the pin.........but then the pins fall out, get lost and triggers are inadvertently bumped.
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Old 09-13-2019, 11:46 PM   #19
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I ordered 4 detectors, the type that detects smoldering fire, one each for the engine room, electrical panel and the 2 cabins. If when I test them underway I cannot hear them on the flybridge I will get another one and put it up there. I got the wireless ones that announce what room the fire is in. The only problem is the choices donít really correlate to a boat but rather a house.
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Old 09-14-2019, 03:33 AM   #20
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My visitors are briefed that in case of a fire, all the extinguishers, buckets, axes etc. are there to get them off the boat. No heroics, insurance does that. Squirt, run, life jackets (grand kids call them “boat coats”), the hand-held radios then dinghy or swim.
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