Recent explosions prompt safety warning for inboard motors

By Cheryl Costello

Since the start of this year’s boating season, three motorboats with inboard engines have suffered major explosions in Maryland, injuring several and killing one.

There is only one step that boaters must follow each time they put the key in the ignition to avoid such an incident. bay bulletin spoke with the Natural Resources Police (NRP), who say it could be the difference between life and death.

We meet NRP at Long Beach Marina in Middle River in Baltimore County. The engine bay of Michael Butt’s Sea Ray Sundancer 350 is wide open so we can see inside.

“Whenever I start the engines, I always run the fan, every time,” Butt explains. This is because a single spark in a gasoline environment can cause an explosion.

Cpl. NRP’s Kevin Kelly says boaters need to understand the risks associated with inboards. “Since the entire propulsion system is kept inside the vessel and the fuel tanks, gasoline vapors can accumulate in the engine compartment,” he said.

Kelly says gas fumes are preventable, as long as you remember a safety step. “One of the most important safety precautions is to run the bilge blower which all inland vessels should have fitted. You run this for at least four to five minutes before you start the engine and it will clear the engine compartment from all the gasoline vapors that have accumulated since the last two times you used the ship.

In May, a 37ft motorboat caught fire on the Rhode River at Edgewater, causing an explosion that could be heard miles away. NRP reported that one of the boat’s engines failed when two men tried to moor the boat. When they tried to restart the engine, the boat caught fire. Fortunately, they left in time.

Then, in late July, five family members were injured when the engine of their motorboat exploded in Orient Bay off Queenstown.

The following weekend, on the Bohemia River in Cecil County, Dr. Michael Steinmetz of the National Eye Institute died in a boat explosion.

“It looks like all the ships were fueled by gasoline, so you have the gas fumes,” says Kelly. “With such an explosion, something flammable must have ignited. And it was most likely gas fumes.

Investigations into the three cases are still ongoing.

On Butt’s boat, there are two engines and a gasoline generator. “All those rubber hoses can leak,” Kelly says. He says it’s important to find any possible leaks and perform proper maintenance. Always shut down your engines and generators when tethered to a supply dock.

On Butt’s boat, there is a notice next to the start button, reminding him to run the bilge fan. “Even if you’re going somewhere to get your engine wet and shut down, run the fan before you start again,” says Kelly. “Because during that time you could be at anchor for several hours – not even overnight – and that gives the opportunity for gas vapors to re-accumulate.”

He says a gasoline vapor detector can be installed in the engine compartment and a gauge on the dashboard would give warning of any danger.

For Butt, the decision to go with inboard motors on his Sea Ray was all about convenience. “They are easier to manage, in my opinion. Outboard motors need to be taken apart and cleaned more often than inboards.

If you choose a boat with motors stowed like a car, Kelly has a tip: take the time to understand safety before enjoying the beauty of getting started.

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