The owner of a dinghy that caught fire while it was being stored onboard his yacht, is warning others to check cabin soles are kept clear of grease or oil

The owner of the staysail ferro-cement schooner, Odyssey is warning others to keep cabin soles clear of grease or oil after a fire on board.

Martin Hughes, who is refitting the yacht in Hayle, Cornwall, said fire officers informed him that the most likely cause of the fire in the aft cabin was a result of nitrites in the rubber dinghy breaking down due to contact with grease from the sterntube.

The fire happened on an overcast, rainy day, and all of the boat’s portholes were covered with net curtains.

A Ferro Cement schooner alongside a stone wall in Hayle, Cornwall

Martin Hughes has owned his staysail ferro-cement schooner, Odyssey since 2016. Credit: Martin Hughes

“I had rolled the inflatable dinghy up and put it upright in the companionway of the aft cabin; it had been there for a couple of years without any problem,” explained Hughes.

“The fire brigade went through all the options. There are no live cables in there, the engine and engine battery are on the other side of the bulkhead, and there is no shore power, even the cable that runs from the solar panel on the davits to the Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) runs along the deck and in via the wheelhouse. The dinghy was the only thing that burned, and it burned from the bottom up; the boat’s plywood sole wasn’t damaged at all. The fire brigade concluded it was the nitrites in the rubber breaking down by contact with a little grease from the sterntube, which caused it to spontaneously ignite.”

The only other damage was to part of a yellow foam mattress that was also scorched; the wheelhouse was also covered in a fine layer of soot from the burning dinghy.

The remains of a yellow foam mattress after a fire

The remains of a yellow foam mattress that was also scorched in the fire. Credit: Martin Hughes

A working fire alarm had been fitted to the main saloon, but not in the aft cabin, which Hughes will be rectifying.

He told PBO that the fire showed that “nothing can be left to chance”, and he wanted to alert other boat owners to the fire risk caused by grease or oil being in contact with rubber inflatable dinghies.

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Odyssey is a one-off Butler design that was professionally built in Queensland, Australia in 1988. Her previous owners sailed her around the world for 20 years before arriving in the UK. Martin Hughes bought her in 2016.

A spokesperson for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service said the fire investigation concluded that “there was no evidence of any ignition source due to the boat being isolated and no electrical services routing through the area. The fire appeared to have burnt from the bottom up.”

“On average, 89 fire-related incidents and injuries occur on boats each year with three deaths. Boat owners are reminded to remain mindful of the fire safety advice to keep them safe from fire,” added the spokesperson.

The remains of a dinghy after a fire

The remains of the dinghy. Credit: Martin Hughes

The fire is not being reported to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

The deputy harbour master for Hayle, Alix Mills told PBO that based on the information received “it appears that the incident does not meet the criteria for reporting to the MAIB. The absence of serious injuries, fatalities, or significant damage to the vessel itself aligns with the factors that determine whether an incident falls within the reporting parameters. Additionally, the fact that the vessel was moored at the time of the incident and that there is no risk to navigation supports our conclusion that there is no requirement to issue a notice to mariners in this instance.”

Enjoyed reading Safety warning after dinghy catches fire

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