Marine Carbon Monoxide & Fire Detection Systems Expert Article

All vessels, from small recreational boats to large ocean going ships, have safety systems onboard designed to reduce and/or eliminate the likelihood and consequential severity of exposure to hazardous conditions. In this article, Marine Operations expert Captain Hendrik Keijer addresses the importance of carbon monoxide and fire detection/suppression systems to manage the level of risk aboard vessels.

Marine Carbon Monoxide & Fire Detection Systems - Expert Article

The ultimate goal of any prudent vessel operator is for every departure and ensuing voyage to carry on safely and without damage. This requires a variety of technical systems and safety devices, which all have their own requirements for maintenance, testing, and inspection.

This is the second in a series of articles on Risk Management Aboard Vessels. To learn more about risk management and hazard analysis, click here for the first article, which focuses on Boating Safety.

Carbon monoxide detectors on vessels

Prudent vessel operators should be aware of the hazards of Carbon Monoxide (CO), and take preventative measures to eliminate exposure and therefore the danger. Carbon Monoxide gas cannot be seen and it cannot be detected by smell or taste. It may be produced on vessels by engines, devices such as gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters, or any other device that burns carbon-based fuels.

Exhaust gasses accumulate when:

  • A vessel is stopped
  • Another vessel is in close proximity
  • Inadequate ventilation is utilized in canvas enclosures
  • Or when following winds match the speed of the vessel

boat carbon monoxide risk expert

These are a just few examples of when the vessel operator will need to take action to prevent exposure. CO gas can accumulate anywhere in and around a vessel. Safety manuals provided by boat manufacturers, and signage on recreational vessels should include warnings to the hazard. Per the American Boat and Yacht Council standard ABYC A-24 – Carbon Monoxide Detection Systems, a CO detection system rated for Marine use shall be installed on all boats with an enclosed accommodation compartment. They should be inspected and tested in accordance with the device manufacturer’s recommendations. If the CO detector is battery powered and the battery is dead, or an integrated system is malfunctioning, the device may fail to alert, putting the safety of all those onboard at risk. In a situation where a leak is detected, the vessel operator should have an emergency plan in place to reduce the risk of exposure.

Marine fire detection and suppression systems

Onboard fire detection systems, when combined with other elements of an emergency response, can significantly reduce consequences such as damage to a vessel, personal injury, and loss of life. Fire detection systems identify a developing fire and its location almost immediately, which facilitates a rapid response essential to the extinguishment of potentially rapidly developing fires. Fire detection systems include but are not limited to smoke, flame, and heat detectors.

A fire requires three ingredients in order for it to exist: oxygen, heat and fuel. Remove any of these three and a fire will cease to exist. There are several types of fire suppression systems used onboard recreational boats and larger vessels. Among the most commonly used are:

  • CO2: CO2 is a highly efficient fire suppression agent with a high rate of expansion. When applied to a fire, CO2 provides a blanket of gas which, in an enclosed and unventilated compartment, reduces the oxygen level to a state in which a fire will be extinguished.
  • Foam/Chemical: Foam/chemical fire suppression systems use a mixture of water and foam/chemicals which form a blanket. This blanket prevents oxygen from reaching a fire and suppresses the release of flammable vapors that could ignite in the air.
  • Water Sprinklers: Sprinkler systems can be found in most commercial vessels. Water fire extinguishing systems remove the heat ingredient from a fire through cooling and have been proven to be highly effective in extinguishing fires.

Should the fire extinguishing efforts be unsuccessful, the occupants of a vessel may be required to abandon ship. As discussed in our article on Boating Safety, it is essential that the vessel operator hold a pre-departure safety briefing to ensure that all occupants of a vessel are familiar with safety procedures, and the use/location of safety equipment, so that they are prepared to act quickly and safely in an emergency situation.

Investigating Marine Carbon Monoxide Exposure and Fires

From commercial shipping to recreational boating and everything in between, the maritime industry is multi-faceted and diverse. Our experts have the education, training, and hands-on experience to investigate the matter at hand. The Maritime practice at Robson Forensic is made up of experts from every facet of the industry, from navigators to marine engineers, to experts in operations both on board and in marina settings. They are frequently retained to investigate cases involving carbon monoxide poisoning or fires onboard commercial or recreational vessels.

Featured Expert

Hendrik J. Keijer, Marine Operations Expert

Hendrik J. Keijer

Marine Operations Expert
Captain Henk Keijer is a retired Master Mariner and Marine Engineer. For more than 30 years Captain Keijer operated a variety of vessels ranging from cruise ships to cargo ships and smaller boats. He… read more.


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