Why are the Big Boats Burning? More Than Just Superyachts at Risk

yachtfireThe headlines in the UK Daily Mail and Bloomberg ask the same question — “Why Are All These Superyachts Catching on Fire?” This year has seen a string of fires on “superyachts.”  In early January, in the Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris, Turkey, a fire broke out on the 239′ yacht The One before spreading to the 170′ yacht Barbie.  Later in January, the 95′ yacht Queen Anna was destroyed by fire at a marina in Fethiye, Turkey.  In early March, a fire broke out at the Abu Dhabi Marina Yacht Club, destroying eight yachts, three of which were over 90′ long, including the 101′ yacht Asfar. Also in March the 77′ yacht Positive Energy went up in flames at Charlotte Amalie harbor on St Thomas, in the Virgin Islands.

Why are so many of these rich men’s toys catching fire? Many think that it is just a coincidence. Yacht insurance companies say that in some years they have no claims from fires whatsoever.

One major cause of many yacht fires is a short in the electrical system. As yachts have more and more electrical equipment added, from air conditioners to navigational aides to entertainment systems, there are more wires to chafe and short out. Failures in machinery and fuel oil systems are also common fire hazards.

The risk is not just the yacht of the super-rich. Any boat at a dock is potentially in danger from a fire on another boat in the marina.  ‘Almost always, when a boat catches fire and it’s in a marina, and there are numerous boats downwind from it, the fire spreads pretty rapidly,’ Al Golden, president of International Marine Insurance Services told Bloomberg.

In January, a major fire at the Medina Boat Yard in Cowes, UK burned more than 50 boats, including a number of classic vessels.  In February, a marina fire in Urbanna, VA killed two and destroyed 50 boats, as well.

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9 Responses to Why are the Big Boats Burning? More Than Just Superyachts at Risk

  1. Pingback: Why are the Big Boats Burning? More Than Just Superyachts at Risk | News For Mariners

  2. D. Faunt says:

    Yeah, there was a fire at the Hinckley yard in Portsmouth RI some months back that destroyed two and damaged another. It was a few hundred yards from OHP, and we didn’t notice until they cut the shore power.

  3. Ginny says:

    Does this have anything to do with the Lithium-ion battery issues?

    They have been implicated in at least two yacht fires that I know about.

  4. Rick Spilman says:

    Ginny,

    I think most of the electrical fires are associated with shorts in wiring harnesses and other faulty wiring and conventional lead acid batteries.

    BoatUS attributes 43% of fires to DC electrical causes and doesn’t mention Lithium-ion batteries as an issue. No doubt if they are used more widely they may become one.

    Causes Of Boat Fires

  5. Forepeak says:

    Three burned in the Belem, Portugal marina recently.

  6. Peter Wright says:

    The Cowes fire was in a winter shed and was started in an adjacent garage where an employee accidentally set fire to rags and oil on the floor as he was grinding out a repair on a car body. Sadly two very significant wooden boats, one from Dunkirk, burnt to the ground two weeks before launching after an eight year refit costing many tens of thousands of £. Many others perished in a fibreglass inferno.
    I work maintaining boats and factory construction and installation is generally done to a high standard conforming to CE European standards by law. It is afterwards where a myriad of electronics are installed from instrumentation to radar to bow thrusters to stereos to heating systems to led lights under the waterline to USB chargers for cell phones etc etc etc.
    Often wiring is jammed into overcrowded trunking or secured against sharp structures or put through rough holes in bulkheads causing chafing. Wrongly sized fuses or trips also cause problems often when it is diy by an owner or friend not savvy enough to understand the dangers. Some equipment requires 240/110v AC invertors or smart charging systems across multiple battery banks where cabling is insufficiently specified, I have seen 240v going down telephone cable. The list is endless.
    Poor jointing, insulation and maintenance add to the horrors but overall mixing salt, water and electricity is not a good idea.

  7. Phil says:

    Owed money to the wrong person or a bad deal (if you know what I mean) or an insurance scam?

  8. ws says:

    They say, These are your two happiest days: the day you buy your boat, and the day you sell your boat:
    Can’t sell it, or are looking at taking a real shellacking on your hole in the water:
    Atmospheric electrostatic discharge!

  9. Doug Bostrom says:

    Echoing Peter Wright.

    Most recent and nearest close-call so far: Seatalk network powered by 40A autopilot servo supply, as aftermath of hasty repair to restore Seatalk network. Seatalk uses 22AWG conductors for power, meaning there was essentially no fuse in place given the discrepancy in power available to the circuit. As is so often the case, things stack up to make a problem: long after the hasty “repair”, a corroded SeaTalk junction box (corroded because whomever installed it was a slob working in a hidden place) developed a dead short and with plenty of power available burst into flames, in a void space not visible to crew. Fortunately a leak in the engine ventilation alerted crew who were able to cut power and extinguish.

    That particular example married two potentially lethal situations: repairs made in haste and failed/improper connectors. Look to connectors, connections for disaster waiting to strike.

    As well, the continued use of ancient connector technology intended for stationary machinery and never contemplated for the rigors of being on-deck in a harsh environment. Hubbell AC connectors (dating from 1934 and intended for shop tools and other semi-portable equipment) have probably cost millions in burned boats over the past few decades.