Incident data summary

Incident reports are used to help identify patterns of risk and any new risks not previously envisaged. That in turn helps define our planned risk management activities.

The process of compiling incident information employed relies on the receiving-of or gathering-in of details of boating incidents including fire, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and now includes monitoring of capsize, sinking and man overboard incidents.

The Incident & Accident Data

The data collected cannot be considered as a complete record of incidents on any waters. Many minor incidents are not reported to any agency, let alone published. Where agencies, typically fire, ambulance or other health organisations have records of a boat related incidents, there are still likely to be only a minority of such records made public. Government records nationally suggest that fire services attend around 300-350 boat fires each year, although the definition of boats may not be consistent.

The incident data is recorded by the BSS Office.  The data includes incidents relating mostly to boats used on inland waterways.  However, incidents of fire, explosion and CO on coastal boats are recorded where the craft may be of the type that could be used inland or where the systems aboard may be common to those on inland boats.

The data cannot be considered as a complete record of incidents on any waters.  Many minor incidents are not reported to any agency, let alone published.  Where agencies, typically fire, ambulance or other health organisations have records of a boat related incidents, there are still likely to be only a minority of such records made public. 

In the BSS records, where fire has spread from one boat to another each boat affected is counted as one record and cause is recorded as conflagration.  This is a reference to one of the purposes of the Scheme to help prevent the spread of fire from happening. It is an indicator of the potential for such events.

Where two or more boats collide in one event, it is counted as one incident.

The tidal River Thames from Grays to Richmond i.e. an area under Port of London Authority (PLA) control, commonly used by inland waterways craft, is for the purposes of BSS incident reports included in Non-BSS Inland waterways.

Overview for 2018

1. Summary

This annual report provides a brief summary of the number of incidents over the 2018.

1.1 - This review is based upon a UK total 132[1] boat incidents based on 124 events recorded by 21 February 2019. Three events saw fire affecting more than one boat. See Annex A for a more detailed breakdown.

1.2 - Fires and CO incidents are 54 on inland waterways and a further 32 fires on coastal waters. This is the lowest number of fire/CO incidents on inland waterways in three years.

1.3 - Concerning 18 of the 54 fire and CO incidents reported, the cause is unknown/not conclusive/TBC (33%). This is a high proportion of unknown causes recorded by the BSS and was only exceeded in 2014 in the last six years.

1.4 - Concerning 24 of the 54 fire and CO incidents reported, the boat is known to have been used intensively, i.e. for residential or extended use (44%). The proportion may be an underestimate as regarding a further 7 fire/CO incidents the ‘use class’ is not known/recorded.

1.5 – Concerning boat use; there are a total of 23 incidents where the use is unknown or unreported.


[1] Note a) Total incidents (counting the further affected boats) – 102, b) Total incidents on inland waterways only – 85. Generally, incidents from the coast are included unless specifically excluded. This is on the basis that the risk assessment and judgements should take account of relevant risk information if it can be associated with boats and systems in use on inland waterways.

2.1 Three boat fire fatalities

2.1.1 - The last time there were three boat fire fatalities in one year was 2012. By way of a comparison, Home Office statistics indicate a very small proportion of fires resulted in a fire-related fatality in homes in 2017/18: 245 out of the 167,150 fires (0.15% or a ratio of 1 in every 682 reported fires). The proportion/ratio appears vastly different for boats on the inland waterways.

The probability is that having three boat fire fatalities in a year may be a blip. Nevertheless, all three are liveaboards on inland boats. As we have some unknown boat usage we can use all inland boat fires 48 in a year. That is a rate of one in 16 fires or 6.25%.

The UK population is 65.6m, discounting the 71 Grenfell fire victims, the fire fatality incidence is 1 in 341,666 people in the UK

Assuming the residential boating population is around 22,000 (ref: Living On Boats) which is one of the higher estimates. The fatal fire rate this year is 1:7,333

The figures suggest that it is far more dangerous to be involved in fire on a boat as a liveaboard than it is as a resident on land-built dwelling.

The Home Office Fire Safety Unit has published information that homes with smoke alarms improve survivability by eight times. We will explore this with the Unit to see if that research has any application for the boating sector.

2.1.2 – BSS Activity – BSSTC plan to review the subject of BSS smoke alarm policy in due course.

2.1.3 - All victims in the fatal reports lived alone aboard their boat. Alcohol consumption is confirmed as a significant factor in two of the incidents. None of the boats are thought to have had smoke alarms on board,

2.1.4 - Fire: February, Stone, narrowboat – single female fatality. Fire started on the narrowboat, which was over 20 years old, when embers fell from stove through its open door and onto combustible floor surfaces. The stove door could not close as the catch was broken (BSS Check 8.10.5 which is advice only). The hearth extended less than 225mm and had no upstand (would not be compliant with BS8511:2010.

2.1.5 - Fire/explosion: March, Boroughbridge, small cruisier – single male fatality. Fire of unknown cause, likely to be a candle or oil burners. An explosion or explosions also occurred. Three other boats were damaged in the resulting fire, one completely destroyed.

2.1.6 – Fire/explosion: May, Sharpness, small grp motor sail yacht – single male fatality. It is believed that the fire started in the petrol-engine space after maintenance work the day before.

2.1.7 – BSS Activity – BSS Manager attend Staffs FRS fatal fire review. Engagement with the three relevant FRSs seeking to achieve detailed incident information. Gloucs FRS and N Yorks FRS did not initially co-operative. Home Office Fire Safety Unit intervened on BSS behalf – further information received from Gloucs FRS. The BSS Technical Adviser engaged with the relevant HM Coroners, and further information was collected from the N Yorks FRS fire investigation.

BSS Manager approached National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) through the Home Office Fire Safety Unit to seek formal collaboration with fire authorities on boat fire and CO prevention initiatives. Presentation to NFCC Home Fire Safety Committee took place on 28 January. Matthew Symonds for the Trust jointly presented at the NFCC meeting.

The focus of the two presentations was the significant growth of boats as domiciles and the likely demographic taking on this lifestyle – possibly through financial pressures – and the likely impact that would have on the installation, maintenance and use of powered and fuelled boat systems.

The opportunity was taken to promote the following:  

a)       To introduce a national NFCC policy for all FRS’ to share boat-related incident information with the BSS – as a recognised partner who can really make a difference concerning boater safety.

b)       To ensure boats feature sufficiently highly in FRS prevention initiatives, especially now concerning the trend towards boats being lived aboard as a form of low-cost accommodation? It was agreed to consider the creation of a NFCC Boat lead.

c)       The Dorset & Wilts FRS model of engagement was promoted for further deployment where there are hotspots of liveaboard boaters presenting concerns?

As yet there has been no NFFCC response to the challenges laid down.

2.2 Near fatal fires

2.2.1 - Explosion: April, Ely – major injury two adults and one child including serious burns. A leisure cruiser exploded. The fuel for the explosion is not yet confirmed as gas or petrol. There are reports of it being a gas explosion although there are also anecdotes of a smell of petrol. No further information was provided.

2.2.2 – Fire: September, near Bath – major injuries two adults. Live-aboard narrowboat undergoing refit. Owners temporarily using a LPG cartridge picnic stove to heat food and water. After boiling a kettle a fire ball occurred setting light to male occupant who jumped in the canal to extinguish flames. Boat caught light and was totally destroyed. Both occupants hospitalised, male occupant has life-changing burn injuries.

2.2.3 – BSS Activity – contacted the insurance assessor and the victims concerning the Bath incident. Imminent press release to emphasise previous releases and published guidance not to use such picnic appliances on board and not to change cartridges on board. Victims to contribute to the BSS activity once the legal case is over.

2.2.4 – A woman was taken to hospital as a priority after a canal boat caught fire on the Grand Union Canal in London. No further information has been provided.

2.2.5 – An owner was refuelling his petrol outboard engine on the lock landing stage. The petrol vapour ignited, and the owner suffered burns to his chest and arms. The boat then still alight drifted toward the weir boom.

2.2.6 – In August, two ‘retirees’ spent their savings on an unregistered boat in a marina and three days later a rapid fire developed on the boat at its mooring at 2200 hours. The two occupants jumped into the water and were admitted to hospital for treatment. No further details are available. The owners have not responded to requests from the navigation authority officer. This information has just become known.

2.3 CO incidents

2.3.1 - Solid Fuel Stoves – rotating chimney cowl failures. The February CO alarm activation incident involving the failure of a solid fuel stove’s rotating chimney cowl is with Trading Standards.  The product is withdrawn from the market, and the focus is to be on the 300 or so units previously sold.  Trading Standards engaged with the maker, initially on breaches of e-commerce rules. 

A second (historic) failure of a rotating cowl has been reported, an unknown but different make, causing the activation of the boat’s two CO alarms. 

2.3.2 – BSS Activity – contacted with the makers of the cowl the subject of the February incident. Contacted and engaged with boat owners concerning both incidents. Engagement and support for Trading Standards. BSS plan a press release guiding owners to check their rotating cowls, ensure they are maintained to the makers instructions and if in doubt remove/replace. Such type of incidents previously unknown. BSS Risk Register records that BSSTC to monitor incident data.

2.4 Capsize

2.4.1 – Capsize: March, Scotland – three men rescued from a Scottish loch. Two boats were travelling in a convoy on a Scottish loch. One capsized and emergency services rescued the men who were treated by ambulance, then taken to hospital for further observation. We are yet to ascertain the size and type of craft and whether they are private or hire craft.

2.5 Rented craft incidents

2.5.1 - a rented boat having on private BSS certification caught fire due to pyrolysis in the wooden surround of the solid fuel stove. Both tenants required treatment for smoke inhalation and went to hospital for check-ups. There was substantial damage to the boat in the stove area, but the tenants effected repairs with help and moved back aboard.

BSS activity covered above in 2.17 and 2.2.3 and raised the matter of the boat being rented with the navigation authority.

2.6 Hire craft incidents

2.6.1 – We have confirmed 6 incidents concerning hire craft in 2018. There were three sinkings in locks.

Two incidents involved slipping – one on a gunwhale which resulted in a collapsed lung of the victim. The other occurred as the victim jumped from boat to bank and sustained a serious head injury requiring intensive care in hospital.

The remaining incident involved an explosive shattering glass cooker lid that resulted in hospital treatment for cuts from glass shards in the victim’s head.

2.7 Other Fatal incident

2.7.1 – A private boat skipper was knocked into a canal by the tiller swinging on hitting an underwater object. By the time a friend could rescue the victim and secure him to the boat he was unresponsive and did not survive the attendance by blue light services.

BSS activity to note this incident in the context of the Hire Boat tiller arc marking requirements and add to the risk register.

Annex A – Total - 1 January to 31 December 2018  

Table A1      Basic statistics from the records

All incidents

Number of incidents recorded

132

Fire/explosion (inc immediate risk of)*

80

CO (including near incidents)

6

Pollution

0

Man Overboard

5

Personal Injury

7

Capsize, collision, grounding, stranding, sinking including lock hang-ups

34

*vessels included in multi-vessel incidents

 

 

Table A2     Serious incidents

[Note: Major injury = person treated at hospital)

Fatalities

Major injuries

Totals of boaters harmed

5

35

Explosion/fire, petrol, gas, fume ignition

3

15

Carbon Monoxide

-

6

MOB / Capsize/ collision / sinking

2

8

Other personal injuries

-

6

 

Table A3     Boat classification - Inland waterways only

[Note: Navigation = all other inc Capsize, Sinking, Grounding etc]

Fire, CO & Pollution

(54)

‘MOB & Navigation’

(46)

Pleasure and leisure

20

15

Not recorded/not known

7

16

Intensive [residential and extended use) including rented

24

5

Hire and passenger boat

0

6

Workboats / other commercial

1

4

Brokerage / renovation / under repair

1

0

Abandoned

1

0

  

Table A4   Trends in systems & causes, Inland waterways only

[Note - All fire & CO events only]

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

Totals

54

69

65

63

69

91

80

Deliberate Fire setting

5

11

5

11

12

11

11

Conflagration

3

4

5

11

3

3

5

Totals of accidental and original incidents

46

54

55

41

54

75

64

Bullseyes

-

1

0

0

0

0

0

Electrical [system / appliances]

6

7

11

7

8

15

15

Engine / engine room / exhaust

7

2

7

2

5

6

4

Flammable vapours (not yet identified)

2

7

5

4

3

3

2

Other domestic, galley, smoking, candles, etc

0

2

4

1

0

0

3

Gas escape / installed gas appliance

2

3

3

2

0

4

3

Not known [inconclusive / tbc to BSS]

18

21

10

15

27

28

21

Oil fired stoves and heaters [installed]

3

3

-

1

0

1

2

Other [inc machinery, welding, DIY, etc]

0

0

-

-

2

1

2

Petrol related – leaks, refuelling, etc

1

2

2

2

2

2

2

Portable engines / outboards / generators

0

1

-

-

2

2

0

Portable items [lpg, oil, BBQ, electric, etc]

1

0

1

-

0

2

0

Solid fuel stoves

6

6

12

7

5

13

10

 

Table A5 fires related to electrical systems

Boat Type

Incident Type

Use

Brief details

Narrowboat

Battery explosion

Intensive

A battery on a two-year old boat exploded when a cell overheated under charge whilst idling the engine. Shards of casing and battery acid were scattered.

Unrecorded

Fire

Intensive

Owner reported a phone charger plug became extremely hot during charging. Owner was alerted by the smell of burning.

Steel Narrowboat

Fire

Intensive

Incident linked to a suspected electrical fault linked to an inverter issue

GRP Yacht

Fire

Pleasure

It was reported that a fan heater was left running on the boat as the owner had been on the boat during the day

Sports Cruiser

Fire

Intensive

A suspected electrical fault fire started in the engine compartment.

Large cruiser

Fire

Build

A faulty electrical component on a new build boat in the factory became hot and started to smoke company policy is to call the FRS as a precaution.

Cruiser

Fire

Pleasure

It is suggested that a cable shorted out on the engine block causing a spark and igniting combustible materials. The engine had been replaced in the last 12 months.

Cruiser

Fire

Pleasure

A fault leading to overload of the battery isolator switch which resulted in smoke and flame in the engine compartment. Investigations revealed that smoke (no flame was reported) emanated from the “Diode Splitter” (confusingly frequently referred to as a Battery Isolator), not the Battery Master Switch.

Narrowboat

Fire

pleasure

Finding the engine stop button did not work, the crew then smelt burning.'  They opened the engine bay and found flames coming from the wiring loom.

Cruiser

Fire

unknown

Un-named faulty appliance

Large cruiser

Fire

Intensive

Unidentified electrical issue.

 

Table A6 incidents related to Solid Fuel Stoves

Boat Type

Risk

Use

Brief Details

Small cruiser

Fire

Intensive

The boat went under a bridge and the stove hit the structure. The chimney and stove collapsed and set fire the whole boat. The BSS had long expired

narrowboat

Fire

Intensive

The stove was running with the door open and an ember fell out onto a combustible surface

narrowboat

CO

Intensive

Constant CO alarm activation prompted the owner to check and discover a cracked stove body

narrowboat

Fire

Rented

Wooden stove surround caught fire

narrowboat

CO

Not recorded

Vane separated from rotating cowl. Cowl was facing wind creating a back-draught. CO escaped stove and activated a CO alarm

narrowboat

CO

Intensive

Boat sitters found the sfs appliance had gaps and allowed flue gasses to escape into the accommodation space, coupled with ventilation mushroom valves not function throughout the vessel.