Boatyard Fires: Best Practices to Prevent a Major Calamity

From the blaze at the Lurssen’s yard in Germany to the fire in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that destroyed several yachts at a local marina, in recent years there has been an increase in high-profile fires in marinas, boatyards, boatbuilder plants, and other marine facilities. These incidents prompted the industry to take a step back and examine common causes of these fires and identify actions to help prevent future catastrophic fire losses.

One of the main causes of fires in marinas, boatyards and among boatbuilders is mechanical and/or electrical work by inexperienced people, be they vessel owners, crew, or yard staff. Other causes include overloaded electrical systems, unattended space heaters, and fueling operations and leaks. With vessels now commonly valued in the tens of millions of dollars, one fire can have a dramatic financial impact on many parties.

Marine-related fires and other calamities can be mitigated, or possibly avoided altogether, by working alongside trusted subcontractors and following proper fire protection protocols to ensure the safety of both customers and employees.

When marine facilities use subcontractors, they should:

  • Spell out all subcontractor responsibilities and obtain appropriate documents such as certificate of insurance, business and/or state licenses where applicable, and any other relevant certifications.
  • Provide the subcontractor with safety/first aid/emergency rules and regulation and periodically conduct safety meetings.
  • Discuss with an attorney about implementing a subcontractor agreement which contains a hold harmless or indemnity clause and an arbitration clause.

In addition, following proper fire protection protocols will help ensure the safety of both customers and employees. Marine facilities should:

  • Use only trusted and licensed subcontractors who comply with safety rules and regulations.
  • Do not allow any unauthorized electrical or mechanical work on board any boat and conduct random inspections of boat facilities for ground leaks.
  • Display and scrupulously enforce NFPA 303 compliant fueling procedures.
  • Properly store chemicals, and require that any spill must be immediately reported to the marine facility management.
  • Require use of only UL Marine-approved appliances and equipment on board.

Boatyard and other marine-related fires can pose a serious threat to the safety and security of customers and employees alike. The good news is that most fires are preventable. Following the steps listed above and preparing for emergencies in advance can help prevent the lasting damage of a fire.

For more tips on boatyards and marinas and other key aspects of marina safety, visit our Marine Insights.

Steve Erhardt is a senior risk management specialist with Chubb Commercial Insurance/Marine.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.