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Old 18-10-2016, 10:14   #1
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Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I recently started another thread about boat fires and so far have included two examples from recent weeks that totally engulfed sailboats and caused their loss. I will add other incidents to that thread as I learn about them. Here is a link to that thread:
Engine Fires Can Spread Quickly!

What I find striking in several cases of boat fires is that the crew who were in the cockpit or in the cabin did not know about the fires until it was too late. Early detection could have saved the boats.

Another CF member asked in that thread if a typical inexpensive "Home" smoke alarm unit would be useful in a sailboat's engine compartment to warn the crew of an engine fire. I think that is a good question.

I have read before about inexpensive "home oriented" smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the cabin spaces of boats. But, I have not read about their use in the engine compartments.

That is my focus. Are the units robust enough to be useful in a typical small enclosed space like a typical 40 foot sailboat engine space?

Are home smoke alarm units (e.g. Typical low cost Home Depot type smoke alarms intended for home use) suitable for use in a marine application such as putting them in a typical sailboat engine compartment?
  1. Will they work reliably?
  2. Will they corrode quickly due to the salt air affecting the electronics (wiring + battery) and stop functioning?
  3. Will they be loud enough to be heard over the sound of the running diesel engine?
  4. Will they cause false alarms due to the diesel operation (air quality in the engine compartment)?

Any input on these questions?

False economy? Or "What would it hurt to add a couple?"
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:24   #2
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I have used a series of cheap smoke alarms aboard. The first one I had was too sensitive to my bad cooking and would frequently go off while I was in the galley. The next one had a "test" button which I used regularly and it lasted a long time until it went swimming (I can't remember how I managed that, but salt water immersion didn't do it any good) and I'm on my third cheap smoke detector now.

I haven't put one in the engine compartment, but am certain that they are loud enough to be heard outside the enclosure. All modern compartments have an opening meant to be used by fire extinguishers and covered by a removable plastic seal; so if the portable unit is placed close to that the builtin soundproofing of the compartment wouldn't deaden the noise.

The core measurement component is probably quite susceptible to the corrosive environment aboard, but with a test-circuit I'm not worried about it failing in an unsafe mode; and when it fails I'll get another inexpensive portable unit. I believe they all measure the particulate matter in the air rather than the temperature, so the elevated engine room temps shouldn't set it off prematurely.

What excited me at the last boat show was a cool fire extinguisher for my engine compartment that has no power requirements at all! The extinguisher looks like a long section of clear plastic hose filled with liquid. The liquid is actually a gas under high pressure and hose itself is designed to deform when it reaches a certain temperature, releasing the gas and (hopefully) extinguishing the fire by replacing oxygen with something inflammable.
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:40   #3
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Good Questions!

I recently did a pre-purchase survey in August and here is what came back concerning smoke detectors:

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
recently approved a first-time requirement for smoke
alarms aboard pleasure boats with sleeping quarters.
It states, “All vessels 26 feet or more in length with
accommodation spaces intended for sleeping shall be equipped with a single station smoke alarm that is
listed to UL217 for recreational vehicles and is installed
and maintained according to the device manufacturer's
instructions “.
As this is a relatively inexpensive
commodity capable of a huge safety return, it is the
opinion of this office that a smoke detector is installed.

Concerning engine room installation, well, if your engine is clean and well maintained this shouldn't be an issue. Loud enough? Well that will depend on the size and location of the engine room won't it? Some smoke detectors can be slaved to a second smoke detector so that if one goes off, the slaved detector also provides and alarm (i.e. one in the engine room, one outside).

At the end of the day, I always err on the side of safety. If I question if one is enough...get two so if not needed, at least there's a spare onboard.

Zanshin, that cool fire protection that you saw at the boat show is called a FireSearch system (Bavaria brand) or something akin to it. I have installed this system in both the AC and DC switchboards on my current work project after having the company demo it for us using a mock-up switchboard (meaning a closed wooden box with newspapers on fire inside). Am fairly impressed with the system and ease of installation.
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:44   #4
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

ZANSHIN and TEKNISHN, Good posts! Thanks for adding to the discussion.
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:44   #5
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Strange quirk in the English language, flammable and inflammable are synonyms, something that doesn't burn is non-flammable
Who the Hell invented our language?
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:45   #6
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I really doubt that the old ears on this forum would reliably hear a smoke alarm with its alarm mounted in an insulated engine room with the engine working hard.
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Old 18-10-2016, 10:52   #7
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I use home depot type smoke, Carbon Monoxide, and propane detectors in my engine room (smoke and CO) sleeping cabin (smoke and CO) and galley (all three). The engine room smoke detector has gone off when I burned up a fan belt and when I had smoking oil on the exhaust manifold.

I think the general answer is yes, they work, and yes, you can hear them. One tripping means there is something that needs immediate attention, even if it's not a fire.

The second step is immediate and overwhelming fire suppression the moment one starts. There are simple reasons. Fuel lines burn through, feeding a small fire a large amount of diesel. Fiberglass burns like greased paper, and the smoke is far too toxic for entry to the space. Boat fires spread very fast. Sooo.... The electrical cut off is on the way to the engine room access, and I have both forty pounds of CO2 piped into the engine room like a sprinkler system, plus fire ports for extinguishers. Do consider a CO2 flooding system - bottles of CO2 are cheap at a welding supply, and copper tubing can carry it into your compartment.
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Old 18-10-2016, 11:01   #8
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Seal View Post
Strange quirk in the English language, flammable and inflammable are synonyms, something that doesn't burn is non-flammable
Who the Hell invented our language?
Something doesn't burn is also Uninflammable. Roots: Flame and Inflame. It sounds like you're confusing Unflammable with Inflammable. These are two different root words (Flame and Inflame).

English is a Germanic language.
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Old 18-10-2016, 11:13   #9
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

German beer is good, their language ????
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Old 18-10-2016, 11:23   #10
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

smoke alarms?? my ericson had one. it told me when it died by shrieking in my still sleeping after 34 days working gonna killitedead ears.. so i proceeded to remove it and never look back. this boat has no smoke alarm..
ohmygods how did those sailors ever manage without all this crap.
damn'
there is one minor drawback--as i use nose to determine changes in conditions, and touch and sound, i must lay hands on my plugs and wires occasionally.
i use surge protectors that cost real money and let me know when there is a polarity reversal, or a short in system.

and i do NOT have a turbocharged engine.
these seem to be a new major cause of boat destruction on the water-- engine is fine turbo gets overheated as they are prone to doing, and fiberglass somehow lights on fire. as these things we cruise around in are actually accelerants for flames, not retardants, the boat will go POOF fast, and uhoh happens.
seems that air flow is much more important on these than my normally aspirated tractor workhorse--- so please make sure your engine is breathing well even at maximum rpms, which could be the cause of the overheating..remember turbos need MORE AIR, more, even than a boat can allow it to have.
make sure your insulation is far enough away from the hot points of engine so you donot lose boat as did sandpiper, and 2 others since september 2015.
and, yes, it is damnear impossible to hear an engine alarm over the sound of the running engine, and if it is indeed the turbo overheating, it will heat nicely before being able to serve you well. it gets HOT in turbocharged engine bays

check your air filters often!!!
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Old 18-10-2016, 11:40   #11
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I love it when zeehag talks technical stuff. I might be falling in love!

But seriously, living and working on boats here in Egypt for many years, many boats are lost each year due to electrical fires inside cabin walls due to poor electrical work. Now I don't work in the tourism industry here (dive boat, day snorkelers, etc) and most of these boats are constructed of wood. Most of the boats that I have been on for diving or day trips didn't have smoke detectors (not required by law). Above the waterline these boats burn up fast and most of the crews are trained to jump overboard rather than fight a fire....and the boat is lost.

Fighting a fire is no joke, fought 3 major fires on US Navy ships during my career...Not fun. Prevention is the best medicine.

Get a smoke detector, get two. Do whatever it takes to make your boat safe for you AND the boat.
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Old 18-10-2016, 12:11   #12
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

I hung a 'first alert' Co/smoke combo, near my bunk. It's great at telling me dinner is ready, and that I need to have more ventilation than the dorades provide when burning oil lamps and alcohol stove at the same time. Batteries are good for five years IIRC. I'm a fan. Good idea in the engine compartment, though my boat is so small I'm either right above it or right beside it so I'd probably notice smoke right away. Make sure you can remove it quickly to stuff under a mattress or something, the noise just doesn't end....

Sent from a boat somewhere
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Old 18-10-2016, 16:00   #13
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steady Hand View Post
  1. Will they work reliably?
  2. Will they corrode quickly due to the salt air affecting the electronics (wiring + battery) and stop functioning?
  3. Will they be loud enough to be heard over the sound of the running diesel engine?
  4. Will they cause false alarms due to the diesel operation (air quality in the engine compartment)?

Any input on these questions?

False economy? Or "What would it hurt to add a couple?"
Hi Steady,

I had a (small) electrical fire on my first boat: the compass light was spliced with electrical tape, and in the warm and humid weather of our Pacific crossing, the electrical tape let go and allowed the wires to short against the metal inside the binnacle. So in a very inaccessible place, but fortunately I noticed it right away and it went out as soon as I flipped the breaker off.

Since then I've been paranoid about electrical fires and have tried to protect us as much as I can. I added automatic fire extinguishers in both the engine and main DC distribution cabinet. I added home smoke alarms (the infrared kind, not the [IMHO] less sensitive and more false alarmy radioactive kind) pretty much anywhere I felt there could be an electrical fire. In the battery compartment, the DC distribution cabinet, in the lazarette near the autopilot motor, and etc.

In the ten additional years I owned that boat, none of the smoke alarms 'failed', at least in a way that I can tell. I was careful to put them on the ceiling and well away from anywhere I felt could get wet. I never got a false alarm from the smoke alarms, though I did get false alarms from the propane detector when charging the flooded wet cell batteries.

Adding on the experience of other boats with electrical fires, I also added fuses to every large load. Which many boats do not come with. I added fuses to the engine starting circuit/alternator output. And etc.

I think the next, and incrementally way more expensive and complicated, step would be to use better smoke alarms that are linked to high amp circuit switches. For example, our automatic fire extinguisher will trip the engine shutdown, but I think it should also shut off the power to the engine (which I feel is the most likely cause of fire in the engine room) and the engine room blowers. If I were to gold plate this I'd do the same thing in the electrical distribution panel-- flip the master circuit breaker off if there's smoke detected there. I haven't done this because of competing priorities for my time and attention with boat maintenance. Adding smoke alarms, and a few auto fire extinguishers, is super easy compared to that.
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Old 19-10-2016, 00:52   #14
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Quote:
Originally Posted by zeehag View Post
smoke alarms?? my ericson had one. it told me when it died by shrieking in my still sleeping after 34 days working gonna killitedead ears.. so i proceeded to remove it and never look back. this boat has no smoke alarm..
ohmygods how did those sailors ever manage without all this crap.
damn'
Never mind that...How did the armchair sailors back then manage without the Internet?
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Old 19-10-2016, 09:01   #15
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Re: Smoke Alarms : Are Home Units Suitable on Boats?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Seal View Post
Strange quirk in the English language, flammable and inflammable are synonyms, something that doesn't burn is non-flammable
Who the Hell invented our language?
The French.
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