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Tragic Boat Explosion

and Safety Tips:

Editor's Note: On September 12th, 2009, tragedy struck the Green Turtle Bay Marina when a pleasurecraft with two boaters exploded after refueling. While the exact cause of the accident is unknown at this time, we have some pictures of the event that circulated the internet. We are sad to report that the operator of the boat was killed, and his wife suffered burns.


William Glass, a boat salesman at Rose Island Yacht Club, offers the following safety advice:

The actual causes of the explosion may never be known. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Diesel fuel has a flash point around 143 degrees but gasoline is approximately 40 degrees below 0! A cup a gasoline can equal more than a stick of dynamite when ignited. Manufactures of boats along with the equipment have been trying to keep spark and gasoline away from each other for years. The rest is up to us boaters.

Some things you can do:

1. Turn off all power before and during fueling. This includes the generator and blowers. Think of it this way, electricity is less likely to spark if it's not flowing.

2. After fueling inspect the bilge area. The exhaust blower(s) play a very important part, but are designed to remove fumes and not liquid. And as for you PWC owners, you're without blowers and fume detector. Gasoline in the bilge means possible dynamite between your legs.

3. Use marine parts. Things like solenoids, switches, starters, alternators, etc., are designed in ways to reduce the chance of releasing a spark into the engine compartment. Proper marine fuel lines are fire and permeation resistant. A lot goes into keeping an engine compartment secure and safe.

4. Turn on exhaust blowers before starting engines or generator, usually 4 to 5 minutes. Operate them during stopped and slow cruising speeds keeping in mind that without good air flow around the vessel the blowers are the only thing helping with ventilation. A common mistake made is not operating the exhaust blowers while at anchor or beached with a generator running.

5. You can hear the exhaust blower running but is it moving air? I've found bird and mud dauber nests and fan blades or vent hoses off causing loss of air flow. Find the blower vent and place your hand over it to check air flow. I will often cub my hand to divert air flow towards me for a sniff test.

Be more diligent in inspecting your bilge if you have had any service work done. Engine rooms can be tight areas to work in for any mechanic. A fuel component or electrical connection can be easily disturbed while another part is repaired.

Your webmaster, Eric, adds:

We would like to give credit to the above pictures to Bob DeGroot, D.C.H. of the M/V Spirit Dancer, Seabrook, Texas. Also, our prayers go out to the family of the accident victims.

2012 Update:

It is worth noting that an explosive event injured two boaters after re-fueling a gasoline-powered boat behind a home in the Prospect, KY area last fall. The investigation revealed that while the boaters had run the blowers for 3-4 minutes after fueling, they were ineffective due to a birds nest blocking the vent system.

This reinforces the notion that you should not just check your blowers for sound, but also for correct airflow at the vents.



Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.

As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.

Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.





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