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Old 01-29-2016, 12:37 PM   #1
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Engine Room Fire and VHF

A friend was recently taking a 60T masters exam from Transport Canada and was asked the simple question: "You are alerted to a fire in the engine room, what do you do?"

In thinking this through on how I would respond on my own boat, I ended up with the following sequence of actions:

1. alert passengers and send to aft deck with PFDs and ready to abandon ship.
2. turn off 12vDC power (easy to do quickly - a few steps from the helm). I do not have an engine room fire suppression system.
3. initiate a May Day call. I have a choice of DSC emergency button or voice call and I would choose depending on the proximity of other vessels; DSC would likely be faster but if other vessels were nearby, a voice call would likely result in a much faster response.
4. Commence fire suppression.

This made me realize that by shutting off the 12 vDC power, I would disable the VHF, unless I have a dedicated emergency backup power to the VHF.

So two questions:
- how would you handle the situation?
- how do you handle emergency backup power to the VHF ?
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Old 01-29-2016, 12:40 PM   #2
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Interesting question. Can't wait to see what responses you get. I guess this is where a Handheld would come in handy. EPIRB aboard?
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Old 01-29-2016, 12:47 PM   #3
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General alarm and announcement is always first. Everyone should know when they hear that where to head, and with what.


I wouldn't be far away from dock without someone else aboard knowing how to hit the DSC distress button on the VHF and where the EPIRB can be grabbed and initiated. If only me, set off both. I wouldn't waste my time with a voice call, too long when the fire could be spreading. If vessels are nearby...and the fire is already more than a smolder...the smoke may alert them just as well.


I would not arbitrarily shut of DC power, but the VHF in the perfect world will have a different power source. If your engine needs DC power to run...you may still want it.


I would have the most qualified person go to, assess and initiate fire suppression.
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Old 01-29-2016, 12:57 PM   #4
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First off, I absolutely wouldn't have a boat without an automatic ER fire suppression system. I wonder if you can get one insured these days without one. That's about as bad as not having auto bilge pumps. Second, I have at least one VHF aboard that is a handheld independent of any ships systems. Disconnecting DC power is way down the list anyway, and there is a good chance the fire will do that for you sooner than later.
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Old 01-29-2016, 01:10 PM   #5
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A small AGM near the VHF will do fine for backup. You can get as sophisticated or as simple as you want. From automatic switching relay to toggle switch.

Good idea to make sure your GPS is backed up as well. My personal preference is to keep a hand held VHF and a hand held GPS near me when I'm on watch. I've gone so far as to add a PLB to my kit. All three in the ditch bag withing reach of the watch. Or if I'm on an unfamiliar boat I have my own gear in a small water proof duffle. As we've seen in recent postings here sometimes things go wrong very quickly. We may not have time to do any more than "grab and run".

The reality is most recreational boats are not prepared to fight a fire. The crew is too small and not trained. The equipment is not aboard. The boat is not really designed / built to contain a fire. This means the first as well as the last line of defense in a significant fire aboard is to prepare to abandon ship.

I'd rather err on the side of premature deployment of the life raft, requiring it to be re-packed, than not be able to reach and launch it as the boat is consumed in smoke and flame.

If you are depending on a dingy that is launched by any sort of power driven system make launching that a very high priority.
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Old 01-29-2016, 01:58 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Portage_Bay View Post
A small AGM near the VHF will do fine for backup. You can get as sophisticated or as simple as you want. From automatic switching relay to toggle switch.

Good idea to make sure your GPS is backed up as well. My personal preference is to keep a hand held VHF and a hand held GPS near me when I'm on watch. I've gone so far as to add a PLB to my kit. All three in the ditch bag withing reach of the watch. Or if I'm on an unfamiliar boat I have my own gear in a small water proof duffle. As we've seen in recent postings here sometimes things go wrong very quickly. We may not have time to do any more than "grab and run".

The reality is most recreational boats are not prepared to fight a fire. The crew is too small and not trained. The equipment is not aboard. The boat is not really designed / built to contain a fire. This means the first as well as the last line of defense in a significant fire aboard is to prepare to abandon ship.

I'd rather err on the side of premature deployment of the life raft, requiring it to be re-packed, than not be able to reach and launch it as the boat is consumed in smoke and flame.

If you are depending on a dingy that is launched by any sort of power driven system make launching that a very high priority.
All excellent points. I'd reword that a little to have abandon ship prep be the first course of action along with the mayday, DSC and PLB/Epirb activation.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:25 PM   #7
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Here's how i think that scenario would play out:

1. alert all on board to gather topside by liferaft and don PFD's

2. Turn the boat so smoke isn't being blown over where you and the crew need to be to don PFD's and deploy liferaft.

3. Determine if fire can safely be extinguished or begin to abandon boat

4. Mayday/DSC call.


Think that's the order I'd put them in. Making a Mayday call earlier will not help me, just kill time when i won't have it to spare. I'll have plenty of opportunities to communicate after the fact whether thats EPIRB, ditch bag VHF, cell phone etc.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:43 PM   #8
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Since we have an automatic fire suppression system.

If it has not activated, activate it, which will shut the engines and generator down., while alerting the passengers at the same time.

Make a quick mayday with position etc... Then drop the Mike. No long talks with the coast guard.

Check and see if the fire is out

If not out...

Pass out survival suits then deploy the life raft. With the beacon and the hand held (that also has GPS and DSC)

Abandon ship
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Old 01-29-2016, 03:08 PM   #9
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Yes on getting insurance for not having auto fire suppression. 2 different insurance companies told me for diesel boats they don't care and don't reduce your premiums. Unless things have changed in 5 years and I would suspect we would all have been notified if they were hot on installing them/lower premiums. Other insurance companies might..


The insurance companies may not care about auto fire suppression because in my experience also...they haven't proven their worth in small vessels. Certainly larger, commercial vessels seem to have a better track record. Small rec vessels probably have a dismal record with them for all kinds of reasons, I am sure if done correctly they might be a great thing. It would be interesting to know their actual success rate on smaller (65 feet and less), recreational vessels.


After the general alarm...usually a Maday for a fire on board would be prudent...you don't know what may happen if you wait. Hopefully it is as quick as hitting a button on the way to the scene of the fire. A PLB/EPIRB should be next on the agenda once you evaluate the fire is not going out quick.


Fighting a fire on a boat, when it first starts, is no different than anywhere else. You get about 15 seconds to evaluate and use one or two small extinguishers to get it out. Much past a minute and your chances are decreasing exponentially. But it is definitely worth a try before abandoning ship...especially depending on the sea conditions and your location.


After that...vessel and crew make the list pretty variable...hard to say what is more important as even with 2 people...2 different things should be going on at once.
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Old 01-29-2016, 05:20 PM   #10
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Curious what other replies are but here's my thoughts...

I did some tracing of the wiring on my eng rm fire suppression system controller to fix a problem w/ my alternator output.
I didn't document it (shame on me!) but believe the controller shuts down...
Main eng (via activating the stop solenoid)
Gennie (similar)
Eng Rm blower
Disconnects 12V ignition to Alt (not sure why necessary if eng is shut down - maybe just belt & suspenders)

So w/o an eng rm fire system - I'd suggest killing main eng / gennie / blower (if used)
Do you have a separate start batt'y Sw? if so I'd kill that - important as there's typically no fuse between batt'y & starter - same for Gen batt'y Sw

Leave the house batt'y / main electrical activated to have VHF, bilge pumps, etc.
If you kill house batt'y you have no lights - running - interior - eng rm if you attempt to extinguish the fire at the source you are "in the dark"- no bilge pumps
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Old 01-29-2016, 05:26 PM   #11
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With BoatUS citing the main reasons for boats fires as being DC related, I can see people interested in making a dead engine room....but can't understand it myself in the case of many diesels and the way engine rooms are laid out.


The engine may be a valuable tool and shutting it down with no guarantees of getting it or them started again is a little foreign to my background.


I would love a peak first before killing the entire engine room...if I couldn't determine anything or it is fully engulfed...sure...shut'er down!!!!


from BoatUS


http://www.boatus.com/seaworthy/fire/


If you’ve noticed a lot of wiring and electrical articles in Seaworthy over the years, now you know why; the number one cause of fires on boats are DC wiring faults. In the last issue of Seaworthy, we talked about your boat’s DC electrical system and the fact that the most common electrical problem was related to wires chafing. Many fires are started by battery cables, bilge pump wires, and even instrument wires chafing on hard objects like vibrating engines or sharp-edged bulkheads.


3) Fuel Leak - 8%
This might be the worst kind of fire to have on a boat. Many boats carry over a hundred gallons of gasoline on board and burning fuel can be hard to extinguish (95% of fuel-related fires were caused by gasoline).


So if fuel leaks are only *% of boat fires and 95% of them were gasoline...owning a diesel boat and shutting down a resource that is NOT likely the source of the fire...hmmmm...too many hours in single engine aircraft and towboats I am afraid.
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Old 01-29-2016, 05:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Small rec vessels probably have a dismal record with them for all kinds of reasons, I am sure if done correctly they might be a great thing.
So name a few of those reasons, since there are all kinds. And why use of the word "probably"?

I know I got a discount for having one (actually two, one for the main ERs (the Hatt has one for each engine) and one for the generator/utility room. And the surveyor noted tag and refill dates.
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Old 01-29-2016, 07:37 PM   #13
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Like improper sizing, poor maintenance, discharged and never replaced...etc


Come on I know you are just busting my chops...any experienced boat owner knows why systems fail to perform...maybe that's the main reason why the 2 companies I dealt with said no discount for auto fire suppression for a diesel boat.


I have been thinking of installing a system...expecting the insurance company to give a discount but the answer was no...based on my experience...it's 50/50 whether they are really worth it.


Based on BoatUS data...they are pretty far down the list to worry about.


Also from my experience..if you HAVE a system aboard both the surveyors and insurance companies expect it to be fully operational...because the owner is supposedly counting on it...so yes they will make sure that it is up to compliance.


No system...no deficiency tags...
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Old 01-29-2016, 10:01 PM   #14
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So if fuel leaks are only *% of boat fires and 95% of them were gasoline...owning a diesel boat and shutting down a resource that is NOT likely the source of the fire...hmmmm...too many hours in single engine aircraft and towboats I am afraid.
[/COLOR]
Sounds like a rational measurement of risk....

When I was planning to our house, one of the items we wanted was a fire suppression system, especially since we planned to heat with a wood stove. But then I started the actual house design, started figuring costs, and looked at what caused house fires, I started to doubt the need for a fire suppression system in a house.

Then I called the insurance company and asked how much a sprinkler system would reduce our premiums. It was a minimal decrease that would never pay for the cost of the suppression system. This was for a house in the woods, with no water supply and about 15 minutes from a volunteer fire department. The insurance company rate told me that the chance of us having a fire was basically zero.

We don't have a fire suppression system in the house.

Not sure I would do the same on a boat but maybe I would.

Later,
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Old 01-29-2016, 10:10 PM   #15
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sorry I think that was 8% of boat fires.....95% were gas boats.


note the blue text....
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Old 01-29-2016, 10:23 PM   #16
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Thanks for all the comments. Just to follow up up on a few:

1. We have a ditch kit with a hand-held VHF and Delorme inReach that has a distress button. But on remote parts of the BC coast I would want to use the higher power VHF for a May Day. Most places in BC we are probably a minimum 30 min and more likely over an hour from a Coast Guard response. Nearby boats with Ch 16 on are going to be the rescuers.

2. We tow an inflatible, so that is our "life raft."

3. I am aware of that stats on fires being caused by electrical. That is why I would take the 10 seconds to shut the house batteries off. I don't want my 800+ amp/hrs feeding the fire.

4. My house and engine power are separated. But since I don't have a fire suppression system, I am going to shut down the engine before any chemical extinguishers are used; my understanding is the powder is really bad if ingested by the engine.

5. There are not many comments on emergency power for the VHF. I do know that in Canada all commercial vessels, even water taxis, are required to have back up power for VHF. Just curious how others may have handled that? Am looking into a 12 vDC un-interupted power supplies.
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Old 01-31-2016, 07:27 PM   #17
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I have a "Fire Boy" Halon system in the ER that of course can no longer be serviced. Also 2 larger CO2 cylinders (helm station, and galley/engine room entrance and 3 small dry chemicals (2 staterooms and saloon) all serviced and certified every year. Since Bay Pelican (and you, John) mentioned it, I am considering a separate battery for the new VHF that also has internal GPS. We have the Delorme and a hand held VHF.


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Old 01-31-2016, 08:36 PM   #18
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I have a Halon system for the engine room without the engine, blower, generator, etc. shutdown system. Was considering adding a new suppression system with the shut down system. Got to thinking about it, and the shut down system scares me. I understand the need, but not sure I want uncontrolled loss of power. This afternoon I was motoring down a narrow waterway as a tug pushing 2 barges was coming the other way. Not the time to loose power either by design or malfunction of the system. The other thought was that there are times when you're 3 minutes from the beach. If the engine is still running it may make more sense to beach the boat for evacuation.

Did the Boatus stats give any indication of how often the boat fires occurred while underway?

In a perfect world, I'd like to have a second engine room suppression system that was only manually triggered from outside. If the first system triggers, how long do you wait before opening the hatch? What do you do if it was too soon? Maybe a couple of 20 pound CO2 tanks mounted outside the engine room, plumbed to dump inside when you open the valve.

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Old 01-31-2016, 10:04 PM   #19
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Just want to remind everybody the CG is now sanctioning and encouraging cell phone use as a back up to VHF. In doing so a free very useful CG APP for your cell phone is available and I have been handing out pamphlet's all weekend at the Seattle boat show regarding this app. Aside from a emergency connect to the CG there are cool buttons for other CG related information and services. You can Google the CG APP to find out more and down load. So if you don't have a portable VHF use the cell phone app.
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Old 01-31-2016, 10:20 PM   #20
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The first thing I would do happens way before the fire.
- Keep engine areas clean
- Keep bilge spotless so I can spot oil or fuel leaks when they first start.
- Clean / use disposable Scott towels instead of rags.
- If the engine or gen set is hard to start or "Sounds Funny" get it worked on sooner than later.
- Replace any suspect hoses. Water and fuel.
- watch fuel lines and injector connections for wet areas. Repair, don't just put a rag there to catch the leaking fuel.
- Keep items a safe distance from the exhaust manifold and mixing elbow.
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