24 Feb 3 Lessons from a Boat Fire
In 2014, Heidi Husler Hackler posted the photo above on the Women Who Sail Facebook page, with the following note. She graciously allowed me to use her photo and story to “spread the message.”
In Heidi’s words:
Early yesterday morning we had a fire aboard our Passport 40 at the dock (electric radiator heater caused.) Luckily the smell of smoke from burning carpet and upholstery woke us up (please install a smoke detector if you don’t have one, we are very lucky to be alive!) And luckily Kirk was able to put the fire out w/ two fire extinguishers before the Seattle Fire Dept showed up 9 minutes after I called 911. Luckily we are insured and everything is repairable…
At this time, I don’t have any more details on the origin of the fire. Heidi plans to write up a post with more info, and when she does, I’ll add the link here. UPDATE: Heidi wrote up her story but the link I had for it is now bad.
But for now, the three lessons:
- Fire extinguishers. Have plenty of fire extinguishers and know how to use them. At least one fire extinguisher should be located where you sleep. “Standard size” fire extinguishers only have about 20 seconds of “spray time” in them, so you may well need more than one to even get out safely, let alone actually put the fire out. Read more about using a fire extinguisher.
- Smoke detectors. Just like houses and apartments, boats need to have smoke detectors. How many you need and where you place them will depend on the size and configuration of the boat, but it’s a good idea to have one in the engine compartment(s) as well as in living areas. Catamarans and tris need them in each hull. Be sure to get battery-operated ones and not ones that plug in or are hardwired.
- Heaters. Almost any type of heater can be dangerous on a boat, but if you’re living aboard in a cold climate you may feel that you have to do something. Think carefully about leaving one on overnight and if you do, think about where it’s located and whether it could catch nearby items on fire. Additionally, if you are using an electric heater or electric blanket, make sure that the wiring is up to the task — heaters pull a lot of amps!
In addition, a carbon monoxide detector is also a good thing to have (some smoke detectors also have a CO detector, such as this one on Amazon; you can get them at home improvement stores, big box stores and hardware stores, too). Be sure to change the battery annually!Heidi’s experience also makes me think of two other things. First, if you are in a marina and have even what seems to be a minor fire, call 911 (or the local equivalent) and if possible, make an announcement on the VHF to both warn nearby boats and to get them to bring extra fire extinguishers. Fires can get out of control quickly and your fire extinguishers may not totally put it out. Get help on their way to you ASAP! If you’re lucky, you can just greet them and tell them it’s out; if not, they’ll be there all that much faster, lessening the risk of the fire spreading.