THE OUTDOOR CLASSROOM – By Larry LeBlanc
Fire on a boat can easily mean you abandon the boat and swim as fast and as far as you can away from it because gasoline can make a good bomb. As we get more and more preoccupied with cell phones and other portable electronics in our lives and boats be advised that Lithium batteries, if the seal of the battery is compromised, can become an explosive when introduced to water.
BoatUS did a survey concerning boat fires based on insurance claims and I would like to share some of their findings with you as we have lakes and other waterways practically in our back yards and add to that the Gulf of Mexico within a few hours the number of boats is enormous.
The largest percentage of boat involved fires in a single class is 26 percent and they are due to “Off-the-boat” sources. Over a quarter of the time, a boat burns when something else goes up in flames: the boat next to theirs, the marina, their garage, or even a neighbor’s house. It’s every boater’s responsibility to prevent fires, but when all else fails, having a good boat insurance policy is the last backstop.
Next down the list numbering 20 percent of fires are due to “Engine Electrical.” For boats older than 25 years, old wiring harnesses take a disproportionate chunk of the blame here. A good electrical technician can put one together for you as most boats of this age had relatively simple electrical systems. Some outboard rigs fit into that category, but the most numerous are larger cruising, fishing, and houseboats.
The third cause and 15 percent of fires are due to what is categorized as “Other DC Electrical.” The most common cause of battery-related fires is faulty installation of batteries such as reversing the positive and negative cables or misconnecting them in series (when they should be in parallel). So to help eliminate these problems take a picture before you begin disconnecting cables and clearly label the cables. Red fingernail polish makes a good marker to identify the positive lug and do everything to hook it up right the first time and eliminate damaged equipment and fires.
12 percent of fires are due to “AC Electrical.” Most AC electrical fires start between the shore power pedestal and the boat’s shorepower inlet. When you keep your boat at home on your lift or dock or keep it at a marina be sure to periodically Inspect the shore power cord routinely (connector ends especially) and for boats older than 10 years, inspecting or replacing the boat’s shorepower inlet, could prove wise.
9 percent of fires are due to what is classified as “Other Engine.” This one is all about when an engine overheats due to blocked raw water intake or mangled impeller, the latter of which can also happen after experiencing a grounding or running in mucky waters. Be sure to check the engine compartment after getting underway or on outboards make sure the water discharge is as it should be. Most manufacturers recommend changing an impeller every other year, but I have always been a fanatic about changing them once a year if no problems show up before. I have never been shy about running my boat up on a sandbar or mud bank and through water lilies and grass in the shallows and it don’t take a lot of foreign matter to mess up an impeller.
Photography by Larry J. LeBlanc