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⛵ Electrical Fire on our Charter Catamaran

Published 7 months ago • 5 min read

Hi Reader,

I've always known a boat fire is scary stuff, but recently, that's taken on new meaning for me and our crew.

If you read about our recent Antigua & Barbuda charter trip, you heard about the fire that we were lucky to catch and put out. I've reflected on the experience and wanted to share a bit more about what happened, how we handled it with the charter company, and my takeaways from the incident.

What happened?

On our second full day (Mother's Day Eve), we were anchored in the afternoon at Carlisle Bay. Someone smelled smoke so I shut off the generator and all breakers. The smoke was discovered behind a cushion panel in the salon we by chance, had open already.

We got on the hook with the base and it was identified to be an AC relay, so we worked together to isolate the power to the AC system.

An hour later most of the crew was in the water swimming and enjoying a cold Caribe when we smelled smoke again. Alan, who wears the Chief Engineer hat was first on scene, saw the fire, and asked for an extinguisher, and then another. He also happens to have specialized industrial fire fighter training.

The fire went out after about 30 seconds following generator shutoff and again, killing all the breakers.

Working with the charter company

A few points before I jump in. We used Dream Yacht for this trip.

This isn't my first rodeo with them, and I've generally had good experiences. Despite this fire, I will probably still charter with them in the future.

I also have clients that we book through Dream Yacht when it makes sense.

When you venture away from the British Virgin Islands, you have less choice and there are always compromises with regards to price, yacht types, and destinations. The Lagoon 50 we were on, for example, was the only bareboat charter yacht available in Antigua for a crew needing 5+ cabins.

If you're considering booking with them, I'd be happy to share my opinion with you. Reach out anytime.

During the charter

Following the fire, they asked us to return to the marina. I declined and also said we weren't going to stay aboard an unsafe vessel. If we went back to the marina, we would be stuck in a sweaty marina on Mother's Day, putting me in the doghouse indefinitely!

Dream Yacht offered to split us between two other cats, but that was also politely declined since we wanted to stay together as a crew.

I decided to risk some out of pocket expenses. I called Carlisle Bay Resort and booked two nights for the crew where we could relax in style while Dream Yacht worked on solving the problem.

Sure enough, the base manager reached out the next morning with a workable solution. They had a Bali 5.4 in St. Martin and could have it delivered overnight. We agreed as long as they could meet us in Carlisle Bay and raft up for the transfer.

Deal.

The Bali 5.4 was an upgrade and makes a great party barge (I reviewed it from a previous Exumas trip here), and this solution allowed the Mom's to relax on their special day.

Shoutout to the Carlisle Bay Resort - they really hooked it up on short notice. Our stay with them was fantastic.

Post charter

During check-out, the base made us a credit offer for the loss of charter time, but we declined. This is generally a best practice - it's usually not a good idea to sign anything yet. That offer isn't going anywhere if you want to accept it later.

After returning home, I submitted a detailed summary of the incident along with our request for compensation.

It took a few weeks, but Dream Yacht made an initial counter offer which was acceptable. Case closed.

Sometimes it's not that easy, but after years of doing this here are a few tips for negotiating:

  • Include as much detail and evidence as possible - for example, we sent in receipts highlighting each of the consumable grocery items we lost when the refrigeration was turned off
  • Be reasonable with your claim - it's hard to put a price on inconvenience, so focus on things you can quantify: out of pocket expenses, loss of time, etc.
  • Keep the pressure on - check in regularly about your claim so they know it's a priority

My takeaways

Two quick takeaways from this experience.

Fire extinguisher locations

We mark it off on our boat briefing checklist (here's a copy), but I've never closely paid attention to where they are located. Fortunately, the ones in the Lagoon 50 were in plain sight as they should be.

Next time I'll make sure the whole crew knows their locations as well as those located in each cabin. And make sure everyone knows how to use them - try the P.A.S.S technique.

I also don't know what the correct number is in the salon/galley area. We had three. That's another question I'll be confirming next time.

Evacuation routes

Again, we were lucky to catch that fire. If it was 3:00am when it happened, it could have been a different story.

Briefing the crew on evacuation routes in the event of a fire is another learning for me. We usually cover it, but not in that much detail. It's just assumed that's something we aren't likely to deal with.

If the fire happens at night and the easiest way out is blocked by smoke or fire, there are of course the overhead hatches. However, not all your crew members may be able to pull themselves out. Have a plan for them.

On a catamaran, another exit option are the escape hatches located behind the ladders in each hull.


Every time we charter, we try and improve our skills in one area or another: anchoring techniques, sailing closer to the wind, different fishing methods, etc. This time, by circumstance, we've stepped up our safety game.

Next time, I know we will be better prepared for the unexpected.

I hope you never have to deal with a similar situation, as unlikely as it might be. If you have dealt with a boat fire before, I'd love to hear about what you learned. What did I miss?

Have a great week!

- Matt Weidert

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