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Vol 48 | Num 4 | May 24, 2023

Offshore Report Ocean City Report Delaware Report Virginia Report Chum Lines Ship to Shore The Galley Issue Photos
Ship to Shore

Article by Capt. Steve Katz

Smoke on the Water... an Alarming Idea

Have you ever considered the scenario of a fire on your boat? Most boaters carry the required fire extinguishers, mainly because it is a USCG requirement, some carry more and bigger fire extinguishers as an extra level of precautions. That’s a great start to being prepared in case of a fire on a boat. Unlike a home or car – evacuating a boat that is on fire is not as simple, since it requires abandoning ship in possible unfavorable conditions and that brings upon other life threating situations.

The best scenario to prepare for is fire prevention along with early detection and the means to control or extinguish the fire and finally evacuation if no other option is available.

Besides fire extinguishers, the USCG seems to be very quiet about smoke detectors and egress on board boats. The USCG keeps track of vessel fires and reports that the injuries, property damage and death are relatively low compared to other boating accidents. Though the USCG statistics don’t tell the whole story since they only keep track of the fires that occur when a vessel is underway in open water, not at the dock, at anchor or stored on land, where there seems to be many additional accidents.


Look around almost any boat that has a sleeping berth and you probably will not see a smoke detector! While at home, in a hotel, restaurant, or most any public or private buildings and dwellings there are strict requirements and adherence for smoke detectors, the first line of defense against a fire. We have become accustomed to seeing smoke detectors everywhere we live and work and sleep. Even in the hardware stores, there seems to be an endless number of choices when it comes to smoke detectors, along with prices for any budget with prices starting less than $10.

Notice I mentioned hardware store? How many smoke detectors do you see at the marine store? Probably none. The is because the USCG requires vessel smoke alarms to meet Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standard 217 (UL217) for marine use and there are limited or no marine smoke alarms that meet the standards.

The Coast Guard requires that smoke detectors/alarms be installed in the sleeping compartments of inspected vessels (those carrying paying passengers). Under CG guidelines, the smoke detector should meet Underwriters Laboratories standard 217. The National Fire Protection Association also calls for adherence to UL 217 in vessels over 26’.

Interestingly, UL 217 is designed for recreational vehicles, or RVs, not boats. However, its surprisingly stringent testing criteria include high humidity, temperature extremes, and extended-duration salt-spray testing, this is why you don’t often see marine rated smoke detectors/alarms on boats.


Just because there are no UL217 marine smoke detectors available doesn’t mean you should ignore smoke alarms. Turns out, you can install your own household/commercial smoke detector/alarm and it may possibly save your life! Do this today!

Any smoke detector/alarm is better than none! Though when shopping for a smoke detector/alarm you should choose based on the type of vessel you have. A smoke alarm/detector is most critical in a boat that has an enclosed berth or sleeping area and of course larger vessels with multiple staterooms and machinery spaces.

The best type of smoke detector/alarm to purchase for a medium or larger boat is a battery powered wireless interconnected system. This type of system is comprised of two or more individual smoke detector/alarms that are battery powered (hard to find 12v DC units and not all boats have 110V power all the time) and located in critical areas around a boat. If one of the units detects smoke, all the units on the boat signal the alert. These are readily available, as an example Home Depot sells a Kidde two pack of 10-year battery powered interconnected smoke detector for $90 (May 2023) and this system can be expanded to include more units.


Whichever unit you choose, install one on both sides of every door in all berthing areas, so a closed door doesn’t prevent an alarm from sensing smoke and sounding. While this list may vary from vessel to vessel, here are recommended alarm locations:

· Every sleeping cabin/area
· Passageways
· Engine room and engineering spaces
· Behind electrical panels and helm consoles
· Under a flybridge helm console or other protected deck areas. If linked with other units, it can be heard by the boat operators, or those nearby.

I would like to recognize Maryland based Captain John McDevitt, a Marine Industry Safety and Fire Protection Consultant and an NFPA Technical Committee Chair on NFPA302 Watercraft standards. Captain McDevitt has been an outspoken proponent of smoke detectors and general fire and safety on vessels and from whom I have learned much about fire protection on board vessels. §

Coastal Fisherman Merch
CF Merch



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