Club Marine eNews

Burning berths

burning berths

While marina fires are not uncommon, owners who have a boat or houseboat in a marina are generally aware that fire is a primary risk and take steps to reduce the likelihood of a fire aboard their vessel.

Of course, marinas also strive to maintain a safe environment and have practices and plans in place to ensure the safety of guests and their boats. It’s a good idea to check with your marina manager about their emergency plans and what procedures are in place in the case of fire, and what is recommended for marina occupants if fire breaks out.

It’s worth noting that the Marina Industries Association (MIA) conducts regular training courses for marinas, developed in consultation with Club Marine – ask whether the marina has participated in the Club Marine Emergency Preparedness Course.

PRIME OBJECTIVE
If you are confronted by a fire in a marina situation, the prime objective is the safety of people. Call 000 and report the fire immediately.

Evacuate the boat and alert marina management.

Do not untie the burning boat – and only if it is safe, trained marina staff or fire authorities can move adjacent boats away from the fire.

Firefighting equipment on marina docks is for first response, but only by competent persons. Don’t fight a fire that makes you uncomfortable or puts you at risk. If you are unable to put a small fire out quickly, leave.

If you are fighting the fire as an initial response, keep your back to the exit and the fire in front of you. Don’t let a fire cut off your escape route.
Boat fire pic
THE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF BOAT FIRES IS ELECTRICAL MALFUNCTIONS
Shore power

  • The low-voltage (240V) electrical supply should come from a minimum 15-amp socket outlet that is protected by a breaker or safety switch
  • Use heavy-duty flexible supply leads, as short as possible – check they are set up to allow for movement of the boat
  • Watch for pinch points, particularly areas around floating dock pylons – leads can get caught in the locating rollers and be damaged as the dock floats up and down
  • Check the lead is not a hazard or susceptible to damage by people walking or wheeling carts on the dock
  • Ensure the lead is fitted with an appropriate ‘screw-on’ plug with a weatherproof connection that is secure in the socket – ordinary plugs may wriggle loose, causing a bad electrical connection resulting in a ‘hot-spot’
  • Have the leads and plugs regularly tested by a qualified electrician and replace leads showing signs of damage.

Onboard electrics
  • In addition to visual inspections of fittings and connections for damage and wear every time you board the boat, a periodic detailed check by a licensed electrician is recommended
  • Only use top-quality appliances onboard and unplug them when not in use
  • 12 or 24V ‘house’ electrics – although relatively safe, these wiring networks are capable of causing fires if not fitted and maintained correctly. Fuses and circuit breakers are the first line of defence in these systems. All shore power leads and breaker switches on each pedestal should be tested and tagged by a licensed electrician every six months and the date logged on a spreadsheet for the marina manager to keep.
  • Specific electrical safety standards apply for houseboats (AS/NZS 3004.1 and AS/NZS 3004.2) – this means absolutely no do-it-yourself installations or repairs unless you are a licenced electrician

Fuel and LPG
  • Fuel vapours and LPG leaks are a high risk – maintenance and regular inspections of the engine and fuel lines is a must
  • Have a licenced gasfitter do LPG installation and maintenance work
  • Ensure the cylinder is within its specified date and that it’s stowed on an upper deck in a ventilated space
  • Turn the cylinder off when not in use
  • Petrol vapours and escaping LP gas sink and will accumulate in lower spaces, creating the potential for explosions if ignited – install gas detection devices
  • Laws apply to refuelling procedures – follow them, and ventilate the vessel well before restarting
  • While berthed in a marina, restrict the use of portable fuel containers for incidental refuelling activities to reduce the risk of spill and fire.

Other potential sources of fire
  • Chemicals and cleaners: often, bottles of solvents, acids and other cleaning agents are kept in a bucket with rags, scourers and batteries – these chemicals can react and cause fumes
  • Hydrogen gasses given off during battery charging
  • Smoking, particularly in sleeping areas
Taken from an article in Vol 33.1 Feb/March Club Marine Magazine.