on 24 May 2022
With a handful of high-profile fires on berthed yachts since last October, including incidents in Hong Kong, Thailand and Italy, marina professional Bruno Meier reflects on prevention
Throughout history, the two biggest threats for those with boats have always been running aground and fires. In today’s world, the risk of running aground is vastly reduced due to modern navigation technology, although it still does happen from time to time due to human error.
With onboard fires, however, the risk is completely different and still there. Even if technology provides us with an array of sensors and alarms, fires on pleasure boats happen much more often than they should. As is the case with vessel groundings, ships are often set ablaze due to human error, especially in the case of galley or engine-room fires. However, one should not ignore the possibility of fires due to fuel leaks, gas leaks and electric circuitry.
One must never put the life and health of any person in danger. Act as a first responder, rather than a ‘fire brigade’
Modern technology exists to detect fires from any source and automatically put out fires in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, most boats do not have such technology onboard, as boat owners often prefer to purchase the latest sound system or chart plotter on the market, rather than invest in gas leak alarms, fire alarms, or automatic fire-fighting systems.
In open seas, a fire onboard detected a few seconds too late can result in tragedy for crew and passengers. At a marina, the ramifications are usually nowhere near as grave, but they are still severe; dozens or hundreds of vessels can be at risk if the marina team does not react quickly and appropriately.
When I worked as the general manager of Art Marine Marinas in Dubai, we operated a chain of 11 marinas in the Middle East, mainly in the UAE. Besides customer care and satisfaction, the most important aspect of my management was staff training. It became such an obsession that, throughout the last 30 years, I created a very comprehensive Dock Master Training Manual, also inspired by professional training in the aviation industry with which I was somewhat familiar. It covers all aspects of the work of our team at the marina.
One of the most important modules is, of course, Fire Fighting. Besides familiarising our crew with the various types of fires and how to stop them, it reminded them of a few crucial principles when dealing with a fire at the marina. Firstly, one must never put their life and health, or any other person in danger. Act as a first responder, rather than a “fire brigade”. Let the professionals do their jobs.
Secondly, sound the alarm immediately and follow the specific emergency response procedure for fires at the marina affected. Furthermore, if you see that a fire on a vessel cannot be stopped within the span of a few seconds, organise the towage of the burning vessel, to be taken far away from other boats within the marina, and if possible to a location where the fire brigade will have access to intervene.
Alongside these words of advice, I learned, many years ago, whilst fighting a fire that started on a fuel barge anchored in the middle of a crowded Turkish holiday resort, that one should use foam when fighting a fire, not water!
Last but not least: if staff training is a must when you manage and operate a marina, one should not forget that only regular drills help the team remain well-trained and ready when a fire occurs. These drills are usually lots of fun and a good opportunity to have a team-building exercise. So, enjoy – but remember they serve a real purpose – and don’t forget to organise a debriefing meeting after the drill.
About the author
Bruno Meier is the principal at MarinaExpert (www.MarinaExpert.net), offering consultancy services to all marina owners, investors and operators.