This past weekend, the 80-foot megayacht Bliss caught fire off Miami Beach (pictured). Thankfully the three people aboard, all crew, jumped into the water and were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The speed at which the fire engulfed the megayacht is an all-too-real reminder of what can happen. Fire-safety organizations for years have quoted an old adage that a fire can double in size within the first minute, and continues growing exponentially every minute after that. While various factors impact the speed, including the material(s) on fire, the fact remains that fire is often the most severe claim filed with yacht-insurance agencies.
Incidents like the one involving Bliss are why Carl Lessard, a yacht loss prevention specialist at Private Client Group of AIG (formerly called the Chartis Private Client Group) wants megayacht owners and crewmembers alike to keep in mind. In fact, Lessard says, among all the insurance claims that he and his team review, ones related to fire are the most severe. That’s why the AIG division is working with owners and crew alike to design fire-safety and fire-prevention programs.
The Private Client Group will work one on one with owner-operators of yachts up to 70 feet, then collaborate with crews of megayachts larger than this. In fact, it insures more than 200 megayachts measuring 80 feet and larger worldwide. Lessard has personal reasons for wanting to educate more crew. He’s a captain himself, and he grew to love boating while working as a dock boy at age 16. “We’re making them safer, we’re making the industry safer,” he says. “I think the industry is becoming very professional. I’m really excited about this.”
The Private Client Group awareness programs range from the simple to the multifaceted. As to the former, Lessard and his team distributed fire safety blankets to crews at the recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, to be used in the galley to prevent burns and accidental fires. At the other end of the spectrum, Private Client Group sent the crew of one yacht it insures to advanced fire-fighting training. It will even send training personnel to a yacht.
Lessard says that he and his team have learned several lessons from onboard fires. First, voids between the interior and the superstructure, where the electrical system runs, can’t be reached by a yacht’s Hi-Fog system. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to figure out what happens next: An electrical fire causes smoke, but the fire can’t be seen in the void, and the crew can’t figure out where it is. Lessard says that Private Client Group recommends using an infrared camera to find the hot spot instantly. And, when it’s discovered, the crew can penetrate the wall and fill it with foam. Lessard adds that this is something not taught at advanced fire-fighting training programs already in place for crew. Therefore, Private Client Group is working with Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale to have it added to its STCW classes and other courses.
On a related note, Private Client Group is working with land-based firefighters to train them to combat fires aboard yachts in marinas and shipyards. In fact, Lessard and the team recently held a three-day training session (pictured) with 15 firefighters from West Palm Beach at Resolve Maritime Academy and Rybovich, through classroom instruction and a supervised burn simulation. The reason: The scenarios are much different than fires in typical buildings. “The heat is dramatically more than you’d find in a house fire,” Lessard explains. In addition, a fire can jump quickly from yacht to yacht, given how close they’re docked and lined up in construction bays. Thousands of gallons of fuel can spill, too, and a sinking yacht can lead to further losses and pollution-related expenses. Plus, water isn’t necessarily the best fire-fighting method.
For more information on AIG’s Private Client Group programs directly from Lessard, fill out our contact form.