The Triton


Painting standards ease minds of captains, yards, insurers

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Just before the Ft. Lauderdale boat show in 2010, Ft. Lauderdale’s fire marshal grew concerned over the proliferation of shrink-wrapped enclosures he saw at Lauderdale Marine Center as he drove by. He was sure they presented a fire hazard and they needed to be addressed.

In 2011, after at least one warning, painting was stopped until fire trucks could be on site and code and regulatory issues could be discussed. Once LMC proved its painting subcontractors were abiding by the tangentially appropriate federal regulations, painting began again.

But specific codes about these temporary painting structures would need to be drafted, Ft. Lauderdale Fire Marshal David Raines told the industry. He encouraged shipyard owners, painters and others in the industry to participate in the code-writing process for painting safely in yards.

LMC spearheaded a proposal to present to the committee on spray painting with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Although not a regulatory body, NFPA is a standards-setting body that U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), local fire marshals and insurance assessors refer to, and often cite in regulations.

Painters such as Pablo Munoz of Southern Cross Boat Works in Ft. Lauderdale say they know their procedures are safe, so they were happy to show Raines how they do it and how they keep their workers safe.

But having safe procedures is not enough, said John McKnight, chairman on NFPA’s task force for membrane enclosures, the technical description for plastic or shrink wrap.

“Insurance companies are not comfortable taking the word of the marine facility on fire safety; they need guidelines,” he said. “It sets the bar for fire protection during paint spraying, which is critical for the yard and those who permit and insure it.”

To create its proposal last year, LMC needed to prove a yacht fire inside a shrink-wrapped enclosures could be safely extinguished. The yard hired Gregory J. Cahanin of Cahanin Fire & Code Consulting in St. Petersburg to design a test to simulate a fire and invited the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department.
A 24-cubic-foot structure, similar to those used in yacht painting, was built around a 750-pound pile of wood. The wood was lit on fire, temperatures were monitored and countdowns recorded to determine two primary objectives: First, would the shrink wrap melt open and, second, would water get to the fire through the opening?

Once the fire was set, the shrink wrap began to melt open in about 50 seconds with a 5-foot flame. About a minute later, the opening in the wrap had expanded to 2 feet. At the 3-minute mark, the opening doubled in size, proving what LMC had hoped, that in the event of a fire, the shrink wrap would quickly recede, enabling firefighters to do their job.
Results from the test were sufficient to write the initial standards that LMC presented to NFPA’s committee, where it was being finalized at press time. It is expected to be approved when next NFPA votes on new regulations.

The draft regulation addresses the additional fire risks of spray painting in an enclosed area and offers recommended specifics, such as measurements and procedures. For example, it prevents working without ventilation by requiring the ventilation fan’s power to connect to the paint sprayer, so if the fan goes off, the painter can’t spray.

Most of the standards are common sense for operations inside of a paint enclosure during spraying, including no one may sleep onboard, no hot work, no smoking, mixing flammables outside, and having grounded electrical, adequate ventilation and fire extinguishers available.

Other standards in the draft are the habits yacht painters already do, including meeting codes for shrink wrap weight requirements, having proper ingress and egress of the enclosure, keeping records on equipment, and obtaining required permits.

Despite the efforts to create the proposal, the new rules will be well worth it in the end, said Jim Parks, operations manager at LMC and part of the NFPA task force.
“If there is a fire and everything is up to code, then insurance is less likely to balk and will pay the claim,” Parks said. “But when there’s a question, insurance begins looking under every tent flap. … When the job is permitted by local jurisdiction, then the captain is in compliance.”

McKnight said enforcement of these new standards are not expected to add much to the cost to paint a yacht because most yards already paint this way. Some yards may need to tweak their record-keeping procedures, but nothing should be too burdensome, Parks said.

“I don’t think we’ll see significant changes; there will just be standards.” McKnight said. “If I owned a yacht or was the captain, I would want to make real sure that my boat was being painted in the safest manner possible.”

Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at

About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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