Protect Passengers and Your Boat From Fumes and Fire

Having adequate carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and smoke detectors is a simple and affordable step that can prevent serious harm to recreational boaters and their vessels. 

There have been 46 CO boating deaths in the last decade in the U.S. Plus, just in 2020, 316 U.S. boaters died of onboard fires, smoke and explosions. In 2019, in a widely publicized tragedy off the coast of California, 34 passengers in a dive boat died of smoke inhalation due in part to there not being smoke detectors in the accommodations area of the vessel. 

Yet it takes just a few pennies and minutes to install these alarms, update them or check batteries. As cold weather sets in, now is the greatest time of need.

CO and smoke detectors may be required soon on recreational boats

Surprisingly, the U.S. Coast Guard does not require smoke detectors on recreational craft. But the USCG relies on the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) chapter 46 guidelines to require that smoke detectors be installed in the sleeping compartments of all small, inspected vessels that carry paying passengers.

While international boating rules vary on the issue of CO and smoke detectors, the USCG is moving toward making detectors a requirement on recreational vessels. 

Boat burned by fire
From, May 2018

Currently, the USCG:

  • requires boats to have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26′-40′ need to have at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board.
  • advises the owners of all inboard and sterndrive powered boats built prior to 1998 to inspect their CO detectors.

After July 22, 2022, the USCG intends to impose fire detection requirements on passenger vessels, because at that date new marine smoke detectors will be available that meet USCG testing requirements.

Here’s a look at suggestions for alarm placements:

1. Installing smoke alarms and fire extinguishers 

Fire is one of the leading causes of boat losses in the U.S. Shipboard smoke alarms, particularly in cooking and sleeping areas, issue ear-piercing alarms, alerting boaters and giving them time to extinguish the fire or evacuate the danger area.

Boaters are advised to place smoke alarms not only in cooking and sleeping areas, but in other onboard areas where fire dangers exist, such as in battery compartments, adjacent to the shore power inlet and cord, and near engine voltage regulators. 

2. Detecting gas vapor buildup that can cause a fire

A vapor detector is another important safety alarm to have. Fumes can accumulate during fueling or engine operation and ignite from an engine spark. Also known as “fume sniffers,” vapor detectors monitor for flammable gases such as gasoline fumes. If a boat has a gasoline fuel tank mounted below deck, a vapor detector alarm can be placed nearby. 

3. Placing CO alarms in vessels where buildup is most common

Deadly concentrations of CO are some of the most menacing gases because they can’t be detected by humans. CO has no smell, taste or color. The gas, when inhaled, prevents the body from retaining oxygen. Brains become foggy. People either die of asphyxiation or become disoriented.

Causes on a vessel of excessive CO often are traced to engine exhaust or cooking. Safety experts suggest that boaters examine the obvious areas where CO can be created and can build in concentration. Experts recommend that boat owners take time to:

  • Check engine room seals and replace them if necessary.
  • Replace faulty exhaust lines or clamps. 
  • Add CO alarms near cooking stoves and make sure stoves are properly vented
  • Check hatch vents above confined galley spaces and make sure the vents remain open even in inclement weather, so as not to trap CO inside. 

Efforts that recreational boat owners take to protect their passengers and their vessel by way of these alarms are relatively easy and can save lives.

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