Video: Fiberglass Boat Fire / Onboard Fire Safety Info

Didn’t take long for that little boat to become engulfed in flames, reaching temps close to 1000 degrees fahrenheit. YIKES! Scary. Boat fires happen often, and many times when no one is aboard. However there is little luck involved with a boat fire….

Since Spring refuses to bear it’s face around here on the East Coast, it’s difficult to get to most boats, much less get the project lists, underway. That makes it a great time to start working from the inside out on your launching to-do list.  Safety – updated flares, working horns and PFDs, seem to make the top of everyone’s spring checklist, but when was the last time you checked your fire extinguishers? Hopefully the answer is last season, but after months in storage and in varying temps, it’s a great time to make sure you have the right equipment working properly to keep you alive in the event of an onboard fire.

While we have your attention, take a few minutes to review the ABC’s of marine firefighting. Here are some basics to know from our friends at Boat US.

A man demonstrating the PASS technique for fighting a fire.

Fire Extinguishers 
The Coast Guard requires boats to have at least one B-1 marine fire extinguisher on board. Depending on the size of your boat you may need more than one. Boats under 26′ have to have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26′-40′ need to have at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board. If the boat has a USCG approved fire extinguisher system installed for protection of the engine compartment, then the units may be reduced. Please refer to the chart for the number of extinguishers required for your boat. Our recommendation is to have a tri-class (1A:10BC) fire extinguisher on board your boat. We also suggest you have more than the Coast Guard requires. Now we know how many we need on board, but how do they work?

How to use a Fire Extinguisher

A person fighting a controled fire on land in an empty parking lot.

Know how to use a fire extinguisher before you are in a situation where you have to use it. Fire extinguishers are labeled according to the type of fire on which they may be used. Fires involving wood or cloth, flammable liquids, electrical current or a combination of those will each react differently to extinguishers. Using the wrong type of extinguisher on a particular type of fire could be dangerous and make matters even worse.Simply Remember the P-A-S-S Word!In the heat of the moment reading the directions on the extinguisher is an after-thought.

  1. Pull the pin at the top of the cylinder
  2. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
  3. Squeeze or press the handle
  4. Sweep the contents from side to side at the base of the fire until it goes out

Fire extinguishers are labeled with the type of fire they can suppress. Most common marine fire extinguisher will be labeled as B:C or A:B:C.

Vessel Length No Fixed System With approved Fixed Systems
Less than 26′ 1 B-1 0
26′ to less than 40′ 2 B-1 or 1 B-II 1 B-1
40′ to 65′ 3 B-1 or 1 B-II and 1 B-1 2 B-1 or 1 B-II

Testers’ Choice:

Staff Choice: First Alert Extinguisher by Kitty.

The Kidde and First Alert 1-A:10-B:C are the Foundation picks for best all around for the price. About $5 more per extinguisher will give you the added security when trying to put out a small fire aboard your boat.

Quinn Connell’s White Water Kayak Project – Part 3: Layups

In the Fall of 2013, Quinn Connell devised an Independent Study in Kayak Design using free courseware from an MIT Naval Architecture Graduate program. Quinn was able to combine his experience as a kayaker with his studies in fluid dynamics and design his dream white water kayak. He then approached Jamestown Distributors and asked to sponsor his project  in order to make his dream boat into a reality.
Check out Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Now that I had the plugs fully prepped, the real work began. With just around two weeks left in the term it was time to start laying up the carbon fiber.  I’d never attempted to make anything nearly this large or complex before, and owe a lot of my success to the expertise of people more experienced than I who were willing to share their knowledge (also, the internet)- big shout out to Dave Niewenhuis, Jason Downs, Kevin Baron, Eli Stein and Quinn Harper.  The videos on the Jamestown Distributors website were a huge help here too, I strongly recommend checking them out before starting any project.

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“Once this little honey badger arrived, it was off to the races. I cannot thank Mike Mills and Jamestown distributors enough for their support and making this project a success.”

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“Cutting the fabric down to size: On the hull I sandwiched carbon fiber with carbon/kevlar to maximize durability while keeping weight to a minimum. As it turns out, it’s incredibly hard to cut kevlar. I cut all of the layers down to size while dry before hand to ensure we didn’t waste any time once the epoxy was mixed.”

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“Wetting out multiple layers is a team job – brushes, rollers and good old fashioned handwork ensured that every fiber was saturated with epoxy before adding the next layer of cloth.”

Here’s where things start to get nerve-wracking; you’re working against the clock with a limited time until the epoxy cures, it’s all permanent, and you’ve got a lot of time and material on the line by now.  It was key to have some good friends around to help. Thanks Quinn & Eli. Tip: measure out multiple smaller batches of epoxy before beginning to mix or start your layup.  This is useful on multiple fronts: The reaction is exothermic and causes positive feedback – in my first composites project we tried mixing around ½ gallon of epoxy at once. The bucket we were using melted and we were lucky to come out with just losing that amount of epoxy – burning down the school would have been much more expensive.  Using smaller batches gives you a longer pot life and you can mix each when you are ready for it.  Leaving the cups around lets you check to ensure you got the ratios right and the epoxy hardens correctly.

I used a 4×8 sheet of formica on top of a table so that I could wrap bagging plastic all the way around and seal it to itself.  Packing tape on the sheet of Formica kept things from sticking.

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“Peel ply made sure the vacuum bagging materials came off cleanly and didn’t stick to the boat.”

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“Peel ply, breather and bag on. Vacuum bagging is a really cool technique that uses negative pressure to clamp your material to whatever shape you want. The breather/bleeder layer allows airflow for an even vacuum and provides a reservoir for excess epoxy. This allows lighter, more efficient layups.”

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“An hour into curing, Thayer’s high-end vacuum overheated and shut off, causing the vacuum bagging system to fail. In a borderline panic, I ended up finding this little engine-that-could tucked away in the basement.”

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“It worked like a charm. The rails came out sharp! Without a vacuum, there’s no way I could have gotten this definition.”

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“We moved operations into the boiler room, affectionately termed “The Ghettoclave” where temperatures were high which helped the curing process…”

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“…But not before getting lost wandering through basement labs trying to get there.”

A few days later: Once it was fully cured getting the plug out was fun.

“A few days later: Once it was fully cured getting the plug out was fun.”

"I used butcher’s paper and chalk to make a stencil for a Divinycell core on the hull."

“I used butcher’s paper and chalk to make a stencil for a Divinycell core on the hull.”

"Back to the boiler room! Layering the foam core into the hull interior with more carbon and kevlar. And of course vacuum bagging it all."

“Back to the boiler room! Layering the foam core into the hull interior with more carbon and kevlar. And of course vacuum bagging it all.”

Although I had tightly scheduled out construction, I hadn’t factored in nearly enough time for incidentals like additional cutting, sanding, and extra coats of epoxy.  With the end-of-term and my imminent departure closing in, this meant that I was now spending roughly 20 hours/day working on her.  To add to the fun, by this point I was covered in epoxy with carbon and kevlar splinters in places I didn’t know existed.  My friends joked that I was turning myself into a bulletproof man.  If I were to do it again, I’d invest in around 100 Tyvek suits before ever leaving the CAD lab.

"Inserting the deck plug"

“Inserting the deck plug”

"The green coating is PVA, a mold-release agent I sprayed on using Preval.  It’s alcohol-based, so theoretically it dissolves with just a little warm water and releases easily from the layup..."

“The green coating is PVA, a mold-release agent I sprayed on using Preval. It’s alcohol-based, so theoretically it dissolves with just a little warm water and releases easily from the layup…”

"I molded over the deck plug straight to the hull in order to avoid any seams or weak joints as molding it in two separate halves would have required.  This was possible because I only made a single boat, and had to destroy the plug to get it out."

“I molded over the deck plug straight to the hull in order to avoid any seams or weak joints as molding it in two separate halves would have required. This was possible because I only made a single boat, and had to destroy the plug to get it out.”

At one point, halfway through this layup I turned around from mixing a fresh batch of epoxy to find myself dumbfounded by the sight of the entire boat, beaming in majestic carbon for the first time.  At this moment, I started calling her La Sirena (Spanish for ‘mermaid’, or ‘siren’, like in the Odyssey) – she was beautiful and the object of all my pursuits, but at the same time she had become the bane of my existence. Or maybe I was just in a sleep-deprived haze.

"The deck ended up just being a wet layup as I couldn’t get the vacuum bag to seal to itself at 4am, alone, dripping with sweat in the boiler room.  Ironically, having epoxy everywhere kept the tape from sticking. I had my breath held for a few hours there, but it came out better than I could have hoped for."

“The deck ended up just being a wet layup as I couldn’t get the vacuum bag to seal to itself at 4am, alone, dripping with sweat in the boiler room. Ironically, having epoxy everywhere kept the tape from sticking. I had my breath held for a few hours there, but it came out better than I could have hoped for.”

"Now it’s starting to look like a boat! Sanding her down."

“Now it’s starting to look like a boat! Sanding her down.”

"I used the dremel to cut open a hole for the cockpit, which left a new question:  "How do I get this out of here?"

I used the dremel to cut open a hole for the cockpit, which left a new question:
“How do I get this out of here?”

"10 hours later…"

“10 hours later…”

With the plug removed I had the shell fully molded.  I was ecstatic and exhausted at the same time.  With just a few finishing touches she would be seaworthy!

Almost there! Part 4 coming soon!

UNTIE THE LINES #7 – Trying To Cut The Bungee Cord

Join me for the first real trial run with Karl and my friend Dimitrios, leaving Marina Shelter Bay and heading for Bocas del Toro. It will be an adventurous one, so be prepared!

Part 7 of WhiteSpotPirates’ “Untie the Lines”, a weekly solo sailing documentary.

Customer Spotlight – Rob Holmes

Rob Holmes

Captain Rob Holmes sent us a photo of his work done on the cockpit in his recently purchased 1968 motorboat. As you can see above, his construction looks great! What we also found quite interesting was his process during the restoration: Rob tells us he preplanned and built the whole project in a three-dimensional computer program! He wanted to be able to play “what-if”, and test his ideas before he cut the wood. He’s actually a 3D animator, so this planning was right up his alley. What’s funny, he says, is that the project turned out “exactly” like the 3D designs, which is quite rare. He told us:

“When I bought my 1968 boat a few years ago it had a terrible mess inside the cockpit bulkhead. Some rough fiberglass work had been done to cover up holes left when instruments were taken out. I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to create some much needed organizational space, as well as a navigation station; which I did not have. I designed a cabinet to cover the space; made so the whole unit could fold down and provide a spot for my laptop. I also devised a system for raising and lowering the unit to make it into a laptop shelf and for making it adjustable.”

He’s told us this is only part of his refitting for this boat, but from what we can see, it looks fabulous!

UNTIE THE LINES #2 – Prep Pack Part

The second episode of UNTIE THE LINES is about all the preparation that I had to do before I left to Panama to go on my big sailing trip.