May 22, 2020 Yacht Fire Safety and Prevention
With numerous recent fires on yachts, what can be done to help prevent them?
With the most recent outbreak of fires onboard large yachts in the past few weeks, it’s important for all of us in the yachting industry to recognize that being quarantined onboard sometimes sets the stage for an increased risk of incidents. It’s human nature to fall into routines, but the wrong routines can unfortunately cause us to overlook safety or not be as aware of potential dangers.
The fires onboard the motor yachts “TIGERS EYE” and “PRINCE VILLE” over the weekend both occurred while the vessels were in port – where many feel that safety protocols can be relaxed as they have access to emergency responders. However, fire safety will always be the responsibility of the Captain and Crew and there are some recommendations to follow to ensure there is a strong safety culture onboard to help prevent or deescalate a potential fire before it gets out of control.
Yacht Fire Prevention
It’s easy to identify from industry statistics that a majority of fires are caused by three (3) primary reasons: Machinery Failure, Electrical System Failure and Human Activities
While a regular planned maintenance system isn’t required on private yachts or commercial yachts less than 500 gross tons, it would be wise to take the time to monitor the vessel’s systems for issues that have a fire risk (among other possible risks). As an example, main and auxiliary engines should be regularly monitored and inspected for fuel or lube oil leaks. Improper electrical connections should be corrected and circuits monitored to avoid overloading.
The Crew should ensure that contractors or other crewmembers do not leave flammable items around, such as oily rags or flammable liquid. Likewise, welding or open flame activities should be properly permitted, and adjacent spaces certified as gas free. Grills or other open flame sources should be properly extinguished before turning in for the night, and areas that contain flammable items such as propane or paint should have gas detectors or fire monitoring system in place. If smoking is allowed onboard, make sure it is done in a well-ventilated area and away from any potential flammable materials – also be cognizant of embers and where they may travel in a breeze.
Image courtesy of The Triton
Testing of Fire Detection and Prevention Equipment
While only charter yachts are typically required to operate a Safety Management System (SMS), we have been very happy to see an increase in private yachts operating Full and MINI-ISM systems. These systems require weekly, monthly and annual checks of the fire safety equipment, which help to reduce the risk of fire onboard by taking a proactive approach to monitoring system conditions. However, if a yacht doesn’t have an SMS in place the crew can still do their own checks that will make a big impact on the vessel’s systems being able to respond to a fire.
Testing of smoke and heat detectors should be done in accordance with the manufacture’s procedures, but at a minimum once per year by an approved shore based company. Fire dampers and ventilation shutdown systems must also be tested and the equipment maintained so that it works properly when needed. There are a number of documented cases where an engine room fire would have been extinguished if not for a faulty fire damper failing to close, allowing the fire extinguishing medium to escape. Generally, these tests are conducted as part of the annual service required for portable fire extinguishers and fixed firefighting equipment, but it is highly recommended that the service provider be made aware of all items required to be tested.
Additionally, the fire pump(s) should be run at a minimum of once per month to ensure they are in good working order. Any new engineer should immediately be familiarized with the orientation of valves and overall operation of the fire and bilge pumps.
Crew Familiarization and Training
Safety Management Systems have proven over the years that crews that are drilled and trained regularly for emergencies onboard respond faster and with a higher likelihood of success in combating an emergency situation. A real fire should never be the first time a fire extinguisher is picked up onboard. Familiarity with the locations of fire equipment and knowing where the closest fire extinguisher or call button is located is exceedingly important. The crew should have familiarization training performed upon joining the vessel, a part of which is learning where firefighting equipment is located by using the vessel’s Fire Safety Plan. The muster list should include detailed roles and responsibilities for all crewmembers during emergencies.
Lastly and most importantly, drill drill drill. At a minimum of once a month, fire drills should be carried out. They don’t have to be boring, but they are immensely important. Make creative drills with fun objectives so the crew is engaged and learn their roles. Use drills to test the team, answer questions and develop a deep understanding of the roles and functions during an emergency.
What You Can Do
Safety Management Systems are required by flag states for charter and commercial yachts for a reason. They have proven time and again to increase safety onboard. Therefore, whether a private or commercial yacht, we highly recommend running a well thought out, simple, easy to use and vessel specific Safety Management System onboard. Creating and implementing a Preventative Maintenance System alongside the SMS will further help create a safer yacht and development a strong safety culture onboard.
In addition, the Fire Safety Plan, Preventative Maintenance System, and other important documents onboard should be up to date and vessel specific.