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Old 30-01-2020, 12:11   #1
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Fire Potential

Just read this message over on the Tayana Owners Group (TOG) website and thought it's important to be aware of potential problems.

Hello All,
I want to share an incident while I was asleep on board and tied up in my marina slip in the Pacific NW. I was awoken by a high-pitched alarm sound that found me in a state of near asphyxiation from thick smoke with an acrid odor combined with another odor like that of an overheated electric motor. Scrambling out to the cockpit for some fresh air, I had the presence of mind to flip off the AC breaker panel switch. Then after rapidly filling my lungs several times with fresh air, I ran back down into the main cabin, found a flashlight and began a search for the fire, which as it turned out was not to be found. Visibility in the smoke-filled cabin was about two to three feet at best. After opening up the forward hatch and most of the port holes, my search led me to the electric radiant oil heater in the main cabin where smoke was still coming out of the top. Grabbing for the power cord, I expected it to be hot, but it was not and after unplugging it and removing the heater to the cockpit I found the electric circuit board in it had succumbed to corrosion from the damp and salty air to the point of perforating through the jacket that separates it from the recirculating oil where it is heated by an electrode. The next morning I looked for the alarm, figuring that the PO might have installed a smoke alarm or a CO alarm somewhere I had not as yet run across. After a fruitless search I realized that the high pitch sound had originated between my ears as the last effort of the brain to sound an alarm that would get me out of the boat and into fresh air. The heater had seen four years of frequent use to prevent mold from damp during the winter months when not aboard, and to keep warm at night when back aboard in the springtime. Needless to say, I did not replace it with the same type. I hope my experience serves to help someone else.

Spirit Quest
T37 PH
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Old 30-01-2020, 16:05   #2
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Re: Fire Potential

Scary! Good quick actions on your part. I’ve never heard of such a problem with oil filled heaters but I think all electric heaters always require close supervision and frequent examination for corrosion. So do their plugs and cords.
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Old 30-01-2020, 17:05   #3
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Re: Fire Potential

Its a very real and very scary possibility.

This just happened recently

I'm a professional firefighter and this is an absolutely terrifying situation for me as a boater

My advice is to

1. Install a smoke detector (It will give you enough notice to get out)
2. Install a CO detector
3. Have an escape out of the boat that isn't the companion way or your main door.

Don't rely on your companionway door as an exit. Often times the fire originates in the engine room.

On my boat, the v-berth has a hatch. I leave it unlocked for quick escape (fire or sinking). Keep the dingy off your hatch. Most people block their exit with storage on the cabin top.

Finally, you may think your fine in light smoke but it only takes a couple full breathes before you lose consciousness and inevitably your life.

Get off your boat, and let insurance fix it.
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Old 08-02-2020, 00:10   #4
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Re: Fire Potential

About four years ago I had an experience similar to the one in the OP's post.

The boat was a night in the middle of winter, docked in a marina. I had set up my space heater in a clear space on the cabin sole aimed down the length of the boat, and went to bed. In hindsight it was a relatively old heater with a chattering fan.

At about 3 am I was awakened by a loud scream, the smoke alarm went off! The boat was filled with smoke! I jumped out of bed and saw the plastic heater fully melted down to its base and burning with the last flame of a fire! I ran and pulled the plug, the fire went out. I threw the burned melted down heater overboard.


I believe this is what happened. Mechanical things wear out. The old fan on the heater reached the end of its life and gave up the ghost, that night. Now, normally the fan blows across the almost white hot coils of resistance wire to heat, thereby cooling the wire so it's black, just short of glowing. When the fan died the resistance wires heated up until they were almost white hot and melted down the fire retardant plastic housing, and started the fire, which burned the housing down to its plastic base.

Note that when this happens and there's a major fire, the forensic inspectors generally don't have anything to go on to ascertain the cause.

The fire retardant plastic did its job. Subsequently I never leave the space heater on when I leave the boat.
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Old 09-02-2020, 21:16   #5
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Re: Fire Potential

Update.These days I make sure any space heater I buy has a tip-over cut off and a high temperature cut-off. I put it in the middle of the biggest clear space on the cabin sole. When it chatters loud I toss it out and buy a new one. I never leave the space heater on when I leave the boat.
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Old 21-02-2020, 21:18   #6
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Re: Fire Potential

Better yet, buy a heater designed for marine use. The Caframo heater won't tip over, has a metal case that won't melt and has an thermal limit switch.
After having 2 oil heaters over heat enough to smell the fumes, I switched to the Caframos.
Trying to make new mistakes.
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Old 21-02-2020, 21:54   #7
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Re: Fire Potential

Also consider getting ceramic heaters. The element is self temperature regulating. If there is no air flow removing the heat the resistance goes up and the power consumption goes down. They don't even get hot enough to ignite paper.
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