The notable increase in yacht fires in recent years cannot be ignored, with many industry commentators highlighting the risks surrounding the storage of lithium-ion battery-powered equipment on board. Of course, this raises awareness of the risks involved with the storage and charging of electric tenders and toys in the marine environment, especially for superyachts, where the number of large batteries is often greater.
In September, we heard that Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation (MSIU)’s report into the onboard fire of MY Siempre, whilst it was moored in Olbia, Italy, could not exclude that lithium-ion batteries were either the cause of the fire or a contributing factor in its intensity and spread. The yacht boasted over ten different toys on board, with the fire breaking out on the open aft deck where the majority of the toys were stored.
Battery advancements have resulted in lithium-ion technology being more prevalent across many industries, not just marine, but what can yacht owners do to minimise the risks on board?
Due to these recent incidents, along with a number of other factors, we’ve seen an increase in yacht owners purchasing/showing interest in our AX8 Thermal Monitoring Camera, which allows continuous monitoring of temperature conditions in a variety of facilities. One of the key benefits of this technology is that it can be installed within the toy garage, offering owners and crew the chance to be alerted earlier to any warning signs. Its temperature range is -10 to 150 degrees Celsius and has thermal sensitivity of just 100mK, which means that temperature variations of as little as 0.1 degree Celsius can be shown on screen. It also boasts a field of 46˚ x 37˚ which enables a larger area to be monitored at the same time if you have a plethora of toys stored in one place.
FLIR AX8 Thermal Camera
The difference a thermal monitoring camera gives is time. You’re not waiting for smoke to be detected, the change in temperature will sound the alarm long before that stage, giving valuable minutes to ensure the safety of those on board as well as the opportunity to extinguish the problem, and ultimately the potential of saving the yacht (although it should be said that lithium-ion battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish). Due to the challenging nature of the fires, any minutes that can be bought to ensure the safety of those on board is crucial.
Thermal view from an AX8 camera.
Lithium-ion batteries offer a weight saving of around 70 percent and are proving ever more popular due to the higher storage capacity, longer lifetime and low maintenance. There is a definitive increase in demand for slimmer, more compact and powerful electronic gadgets and vehicles with higher ranges, which in turn results in a greater need for batteries with higher storage capacity.
Education is also an important factor. The crew of superyacht My Kanga which caught fire when anchored off Croatia was not aware of how dangerous lithium batteries can be. The safety investigation concluded that in all probability it was caused by the lithium batteries of an electric surfboard. That fire took less than 25 minutes to spread before being followed by several explosions.
We know that thermal imaging cameras cannot solve the issue, but it goes a long way to mitigate the risk to ensure the safety of those on board. The technology and risk are unlikely to be improved in the very near future so it is important for yacht owners to consider as many preventative measures as possible, if the opportunity is there.