Fire at Sea

Fire Down Below
By Mawgan Grace” Reprinted courtesy of Ocean Sailor Magazine and Kraken Yachts.

“Apart from sinking, fire is the main reason crews abandon ship and therefore it’s essential to act quickly. The first purpose of having fire extinguishers onboard is” “to provide an exit path out of the cabin away from toxic fumes and smoke. Hulls are made out of plastics and timbers held together with resins. They also contain fuel” “and electrics – a potentially deadly cocktail
that causes boats to burn fast and furiously.
Fire Triangle” “1. Fit smoke detectors with alarms

  1. Keep electrical and mechanical areas clean and away from objects that could interfere with normal systems. This includes cleaning up any spilt oil or fuel immediately. A clean boat is a safe boat.
  2. If you have gas onboard, turn it off at the source when not in use. Make sure the gas storage area is vented and your
    saloon is fitted with a gas alarm. All crew should be trained to use the gas system. Better still, don’t have gas onboard at all.” “4. Fit an automatic fire extinguisher
    system in the engine compartment.
  3. Don’t smoke onboard. If you must, make sure it’s on deck away from flammable items.
  4. Check and maintain all fire control
    equipment regularly.”
    “Fire needs air, fuel and heat to survive. Remove one element and you will stop any fire. Extinguishers have been designed with this in mind so it’s important to know what extinguisher you are using and how it works.”

“Classes of fires”
“Class A
Carbonaceous such as wood, GRP, upholstery
Class B
Flammable Liquids such as petrol, diesel and oils
Class C
Flammable gasses such as butane, propane and hydrogen”
“Class D
Flammable metals like aluminium and magnesium
Class F
Combustible cooking materials such as cooking oils and fats”
“Fire Extinguishers” “All new extinguishers are painted red with coloured bands showing the type of extinguishant they contain. They are
rated by type and size for the fires they are
suitable for.”

“Dry Powder (A, B, C)” “Water (A)”
“Blue Colour Band” “No Colour Band”
“For use on burning solids, flammable liquids such as fuel and gas fires but not cooking oils. Dry powder is effective in knocking down and suffocating flames but if you are not careful the residual cloud can cause choking and suffocation if used in confined spaces. There is a great demonstration on “Crash Test Boat Fire” by Yachting Monthly on YouTube ( showing that in a confined space, dry powder causes a complete loss of visibility.
Therefore, be aware of your exit before setting off the extinguisher.
The other disadvantage is that dry powder is corrosive and hugely messy. It will take a lot of cleaning after use.” “On boats, we are surrounded by water so naturally, we don’t use water extinguishers! Having a handy bucket with a lanyard will provide you with unlimited cooling water. However, do not use water on burning liquids such as cooking fat, gas or electrical fires.”

“Fire Extinguishers Continued”
“Co2 (B) Foam (A, B)”

“Not usually seen on vessels due to its limited use on only flammable
liquids. It is also easily dispersed outside by the wind and there is a risk of severe cold burns if used on a person due to its rapidly expanding gas.” “Foam can be used on solids and liquids but not cooking oil, gas or electrical fires. It can run off solid objects, leaving them with the potential to re-ignite.”

“Engine Room”
“Automatic extinguishers for use in engine compartments were traditionally of the Green Halon variety. However, Halon production was stopped in 1994 due to harmful effects on the environment. Today only aircraft, the military, and police can use Halon. There are now environmentally friendly alternatives such as Halocarbon Gas which will also not damage the engine or its surroundings.
Micro-Powder Fine Powder extinguishers were developed by the Russian space program. The powder is generated by the Galley aerosol, providing a very fine powder that reacts chemically with the fire. It won’t damage the engine or turbocharger and the fine dust can be easily vented after use leaving minimal residue. The extinguishers also said to have a shelf life of over 10 years.
Dry powder is the common engine room extinguisher using a cable pull or an automatic firing head to activate. After use, the engine will require a deep clean.
Your ideal ‘fire extinguisher’ at home in the kitchen, or in your galley, is simply the humble fire blanket. It can also be used as a fire shield when passing close to a fire.
TIP – Wrap your hands inside both corners to protect them from the fire (as shown below). Don’t locate the blanket right next”

“The Law and Basic Common Sense”
“In the UK, pleasure vessels over 45ft (13.7m) are required to fit minimum fire-fighting equipment as prescribed by the Merchant Shipping Regulations for Class XII vessels. There are also other requirements if conducting commercial operations such as charters.” “Position fire extinguishers at the exits of cabins so they can be used to assist in an escape. Use smoke and gas alarms in strategic areas and an automatic extinguisher in the engine room.”
“1. Most fire extinguishers have a five-year expiry date. Make sure you respect this and replace them when required.

  1. Make sure the extinguishers are properly stowed so they won’t become a projectile in heavy seas causing injury.” “3. Check the pressure indicator is in the green band. (See Fig.2)
    TIP The powder inside the Dry Powder extinguishers will compact with the boat’s vibrations and create a solid mass at the bottom. It’s recommended to either” “store powder extinguishers on their side or turn them upside-down at least every six months and tap them with a rubber
    hammer whilst listening to the powder fall inside.”
    “Fig.1” “Fig.2”
    “Fire Fighting”
    “First of all shout “”FIRE,!! To alert the crew
    Keep a clear exit behind you when fighting a fire
    Keeping the extinguisher upright, aim at the base of the fire and make a
    sweeping action whilst keeping a distance of about two metres.
    After putting out a non-electrical fire use water to cool it.
    Avoid opening the engine compartment unless it’s absolutely necessary. Just
    open a small crack big enough to insert the extinguisher nozzle.”

“If you cannot extinguish the fire then prepare to abandon ship. Instruct the crew to don their lifejackets, press the DSC button on your radio and transmit a MAYDAY, launch distress signals and the life raft and abandon ship.”