Explosions & Fires: A Rare, But Deadly, Threat to Boaters

Summer is almost here, and that means may boat owners are planning their first trip of the year. Before going out on the water, most of these people will check they’re following basic safety rules: It’s important to have life jackets, a first-aid kit, and an accurate weather forecast. Fewer of them will have routine maintenance performed or check for mechanical issues before they fire up the engine. Anyone who skips this step could be putting themself and their passengers at risk.

Though it may seem counterintuitive for a water vessel, a boat can catch fire or explode just like any other vehicle. In fact, in some ways they’re more dangerous than cars or trucks—they have fewer built-in protections, meaning owners must follow careful safety procedures. Negligence can cause serious or even fatal injuries. Before your next trip to the lake, take a moment to review these hazards so you’re not the victim of a devastating accident.

Factors in Boat Explosions and Fires

Fires and explosions can be set off with a small spark—and boats have many parts that could be the catalyst. Though vessels that are properly made and operated should not pose a risk, boats tend to have fewer safety backups than cars. Therefore, a small human error or an instance of shoddy manufacturing can cause a destructive blaze.

The best way you can protect yourself is to know and follow proper safety procedures and stay up to date with safety news in the boating community. Below, we tackle two of the biggest safety concerns when it comes to boat fires and explosions.

Which Is Safer: Diesel or Gasoline?

Comparing the risks of gasoline and diesel engines can be a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Though many boaters assume diesel engines are the “safe” bet, both types have their drawbacks. Gasoline engines may be more volatile, but diesel engines burn much hotter—and either can be dangerous to boaters.

Gasoline Burns Much Easier

One reason many people assume gasoline engines are less safe is that gasoline is much, much more flammable than diesel. If you wanted to, you could light gasoline at -45° Fahrenheit. Diesel, on the other hand, doesn’t combust below 125° Fahrenheit. Neither does it explode, though gasoline will. For this reason, filling gas engines is a much more delicate process. Further, flammable gasoline fumes are denser than air and will sink toward the bottom of a boat rather than dissipating. Boat owners should always use an exhaust blower for an extended amount of time to make sure no gas fumes are present before starting a boat.

The Risks of Diesel Boats

Though diesel’s high combustion temperature makes accident or spontaneous ignition much less likely, it comes hand-in-hand with a higher burn temperature. Diesel engines are much more likely to overheat, especially because boat makers, who depend on light materials, may use components that are liable to warp or break in high temperatures if the slightest manufacturing mistake is made. When this happens, the heat that has accumulated in the engine is likely to spur a total breakdown.

Further, diesel engines require much more maintenance than gas engines, and most boat owners either don’t know how much work they take or can’t afford upkeep that may cost thousands of dollars. Regular use is also important to keep a diesel engine clean; a diesel craft that’s been sitting in a marina for an entire year is much more likely to experience dangerous failures than a gasoline-powered one.

When it comes to explosion risks, there’s no question diesel engines are safer simply because the fuel does not explode. When it comes to other dangers, diesel engines may be more prone to devastating mistakes depending on your circumstances.

The Balancing Act: Weight vs. Safety

Though the principles of buoyancy allow us to create large, complex watercraft, the most basic logic dictates that boats must be less dense than water if they are going to float. However, as we mentioned above, light materials may not be strong enough to withstand irregularities. Difficulties finding materials that are functional, efficient, and well-made does not just affect engine function. The Spring 2020 Boating Safety Circular provided by the United States Coast Guard includes a list of all active boat recalls. Among the issues listed are those that could lead to fires and explosions. Faulty parts identified by boat manufacturers include the:

  • Electrical system
  • Fuel system
  • Ventilation
  • Engine
  • Engine mount

Boats provide a thin barrier between us and the water. A defect in any part can lead to a serious or even fatal accident.

Getting Help After a Boating Accident

If a boat experiences a critical failure while in the water, its captain may be able to hail help and wait out its arrival (even if they do so in fear and discomfort). Explosions and fires, on the other hand, are sudden and can cause injuries that need immediate medical attention. Victims may experience burns, loss of limb, and other life-changing injuries.

We have been once again reminded of this threat by the tragic May 2nd boat explosion at Lake of the Ozarks. Three people were injured and one killed in a sudden blast on the Glaize Arm of the lake. Our hearts go out to all those affected, and we hope their story brings much-needed coverage to this risk. Though they are not heavily reported, boat fires happen every year. Coast Guard data from 2018 shows over 150 fatalities and 200 injuries resulted from fires or explosions on vessels. Over the years, our team has handled many of these cases. We’ve seen firsthand how innocent victims can face hundreds of thousands in damages. This is a cost no one should be forced to bear alone.

If you or a loved one was involved in a boat fire or explosion caused either by someone else’s error or by a defective part, our team can help you investigate the incident and file a claim for your injuries. Finding the cause of these accidents takes skill and focused work. Our team has more than 45 years of combined experience with cases like these. We are not afraid to stand up to insurers if they won’t pay—and they know it. With Presley & Presley, LLC on your side, you can have confidence you’re working with a team who will do everything they can to fight for you.

Call our attorneys at (855) 981-6116 if you’ve been injured in a boat fire or explosion. We can provide the personal support you need after an accident.

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