19' Boat Blows Up in a Driveway - 10/22/2008


An unidentified man in Everett, WA was severely injured recently while working on his 19’ sportboat. The boat was on a trailer in his driveway when fuel vapors exploded. “Fuel vapors ignited when the man tried to start the engine,” said Gary Bontrager, a fire investigator with the Snohomish County Fire Marshal's Office. Crews rushed the man to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, and he was later taken to the Seattle trauma center.

The sailboat “Tranquility” where the explosion occurred.

Just to prove that powerboaters aren’t the only careless people blowing themselves up on dry land - a man working on his sailboat at the Northside Marina in Dennis, MA in May was severely burned from an explosion in his boat. Indications are that an electrical spark ignited gasoline vapors in the cockpit of his dry-docked sailboat Tranquility.

The resulting explosion caused first and second degree burns. Dennis Fire/Rescue responded to the scene and immediately called for MedFlight. The victim, 39-year old Matthew Name of Provincetown, was transported by Dennis ambulance to Barnstable Municipal Airport where he was transferred to the helicopter which flew him to Massachusetts General Hospital.

The boater had safely removed his gas tank but not the gas vapors.

It is reported that Name had earlier removed the vessel’s gasoline tank. He then went back into the cockpit. At that time, another man working nearby heard what he described as a “thump." At first he thought that the burned man had dropped something off his boat but then he heard screaming. He ran to the vessel and saw Name attempting to climb across to another boat in order to get the ground.

The witness grabbed his own ladder and used it to help him climb down. Name was able to walk the approximately 100 yards to the marina office area. An off-duty Yarmouth firefighter, Lt. Ken Huck, was in the area and helped attend to Name who was rushed into a cold shower. He was alert at the time and unaware of the severity of his injuries.

Capt. Steve says…

On every boat with an enclosed engine compartment there’s a little switch that should be your best friend. It’s labeled “Blower.” (There’s probably even a litigation-induced placard right on your dash stating that you should run your blower for at least four minutes before starting.) That’s it! Just flip a switch and wait four minutes.

Gasoline creates vapors. It can’t help it, that’s just what it does. It would be nice if those vapors just wafted out into the ether on their way to what’s left of the ozone layer, but alas, they’re heavier than air and thus settle nicely at the bottom of your bilge area, nestled around the engine with all its electrical attachments, just waiting for you to add a spark.

Gas fumes can explode wherever they are, on land or sea.

The Boss Says…

Bruce Springsteen said you know you can’t start a fire without a spark. Guess what you create when you add electricity to your starter by turning that key??? Go on, guess. Yes, a spark!

Years ago the boating industry decided there was a need for evacuating those pesky vapors BEFORE starting the engine, and voila… the blower was born. It has big fat hoses that start down at the bottom of your bilge, run through the blower fan, and exit out the back of your boat, sending fumes on their way. All a boat owner has to do is flip the switch and wait four minutes.

Man off a trimanran which exploded in
Malta after refueling in May 2008.

The Four-Minute Wait

Speaking as the guy who might be behind you at the fuel dock, if you don’t have four minutes to run your blower, how will you find the months required to lie in a hospital bed getting burned skin scraped from your face and neck?

Taking your boat off the trailer? Start the blower while you’re getting ready for the launch. Then you’re not waiting at the bottom of the ramp and having people yell at you to get going.

Fueling? Leave the blower going the whole time. Simple. Now you don’t have to wait four minutes, and you can be doing something more productive while it’s running.

Picture of boat blown in half in 1965 in Michigan.

In case you missed last year, here is BoatTEST.com’s primer on what to do after fueling your boat…


We’ve all seen people in a hurry when starting their boat, even after fueling. We would like to hear from our readers who have observations and stories to tell…comments below, please…