When there's a fire on board it gets bad quickly. Burn Tests reveal that in each fire, you'd have three or four minutes — to make a VHF radio mayday call, locate and use extinguishers, don life jackets, and prepare to abandon ship — before likely being forced overboard.
Having a working VHF with digital selective calling is critical. DSC messages provide coordinates, so anyone aboard can summon help and give rescuers your location by pressing the radio's red distress button. A waterproof handheld VHF with DSC is a smart idea as well, because in the event of a fire, an installed VHF will probably lose its power source quickly or be inaccessible.
Do your guests know how to use the radio? The location of the fire extinguishers? Do they wear or keep life jackets close by? Do they know how to shut off the electrical system quickly? A five-minute guest briefing improves fire safety.
Beyond flotation and waterproof handheld VHFs, personal locator beacons, flares, and other signaling tools provide a lifeline from the water.
How many do you carry? Are they accessible in seconds? Are they rated ABC for all fires? Having several ABC tri-class extinguishers that go beyond the minimum U.S. Coast Guard requirements could save you and your boat.
An engine-compartment fire-suppression system or, at minimum, an installed engine fire port into which you can discharge fire extinguishers can both contribute to the quick extinguishing of a fire, or at least buy you time in your fight against an engine-room fire.
Follow these four steps when using a fire extinguishers: Pull the safety pin. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Squeeze the handle. Sweep the hose from side to side while discharging.
Many boaters bury them among the gear, then waste precious time locating them in an emergency. Regulations say that if jackets are not worn on board, they must be readily accessible.
Can you get out of the boat if the exit is blocked by fire? Carpet, headliner, cushions, curtains, and other flammables ignite when introduced to an open flame.
The Power Of Prevention
Are your electrical and fuel systems maintained to American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC.org) standards? Electrical faults are the No. 1 cause of boat fires. What's the condition of your fuel lines? If they're 10 years old or emit a gas smell from a rag rubbed down their length, replace them.
How many minutes should you wait to start the engine after filling up at the fuel dock? Answer: At least four, with the blower on and windows and doors/hatches open for the entire time. End the four-minute period with a sniff test.