By Richard Perkins
Many parts of a yacht are prone to fire, such as wiring behind fabric panels, engines under the floor, temperamental electronic equipment under wooden bridges, acres of fabrics and carpets that serve as tinder.
The professionals who operate these vessels do their best to minimize risk in all the high-risk areas. That is what fire prevention is all about – a selection of different fire safety technologies working in conjunction with each other to provide many layers of safety and to protect everyone onboard as much as possible.
For this reason, it seems logical that all superyachts opt for flame retardant as the first line of defense, proactively preventing a fire from taking hold. The second layer is the reactive automated systems helping to fight the fire if it has taken hold.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY2 and subsequently LY3) require commercial vessels such as charter yachts over 24m to use flame retardant technology. The codes also regulate who can apply them onboard vessels, requiring applicators to be certified. The standards required by those applying flame retardant products to floor coverings, suspended textile materials, upholstery materials and bedding components are set out in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 453 (M).
Those requirements have changed significantly since they came into force on Oct. 1, 2012. These newer requirements are more stringent and will become still more so under the next impending iteration of the Guidance Note. This has raised the standard and accountability of those companies providing this crucial professional service while recognizing and documenting what is fire safe, which is great news for the safety of crews, guests and the superyacht industry.
Questions are often asked about the health and safety of the product. Flame retardant treatment for fabrics is nothing new; it has been in use for years commercially. In the past, fabrics that needed flame retardant tended to be used in commercial settings such as on trains and in aircraft.
These days, we need to be able to treat the most delicate soft goods onboard luxury yachts so that we see no damage, no change in appearance, and no change in the feel of the fabrics. We now use some of the world’s most advanced liquid flame retardant technologies that can be applied professionally to carpets, wall coverings, upholstery, soft furnishings and a range of
luxury textiles not usually found onboard cruise liners or passenger ferries. They help to prevent the spread of fire, thus reducing the fire damage and saving lives without hurting the appearance or touch of the fabrics.
Almost any fabric that absorbs liquid can be treated safely. The type and weight of the fabric dictates the amount of chemical required.
The flame retardant chemical is applied onto the fabric with specialized equipment, which is part of the test and certification process and ensures accurate dispensing of chemical to the item being treated.
As a former chief steward for seven years and having maintained interior fabrics as a professional cleaner and restorer now for 33 years, I can honestly say the interior soft goods are some of the most expensive things on any yacht, after motors and electronics. It is important to have someone who knows how to maintain them when performing the flame retardant treatment.
As the science behind the flame retardant chemical has developed, the chemical has improved. It is safer for the applicators, safer for guests, safer for crew, safer in its manufacturing and safer in its disposal.
The following areas of the flame retardant process have been scrutinized to create a more rigid method of monitoring and approval:
– Efficacy and testing of the products used for the flame retardant treatment
– Testing of a range of the textiles once treated to the required IMO Fire Test Procedures Code
– Certified applicators of the product and their methods
– Detailed documentation of the treatment process including photographs of all items treated
– Audit of service providers’ quality manual, their processes and all associated documentation
– Information on all trained and certified personnel approved by the service provider
– Vessel certification ideally for one year.
A big question that captains, management companies and owners have is, “who is required to have this treatment and certification”. The requirements for vessels under the Red Ensign group are:
– Yachts 24m and over in load line length
– In commercial use for sport or pleasure
– Do not carry cargo
– Do not carry more than 12 passengers
– More than 500GT but does not exceed 2000GT
– Vessel does not have a fire suppression/sprinkler system fitted
Should a yacht that fits these parameters decide to charter — even for one week — then it must comply. Vessels in private use are not required to comply, however, their insurers may well ask for certification. It is always best to ask the question of the insurer before an incident happens.
We all pay insurance in the hope that we never need to use it, and flame retardancy is similar in that it offers peace of mind, which is a priceless commodity. Tested and proven flame retardants are the hidden protection against the potential devastation and impact of fire and whose benefits are often only noticed when they are not present.
Former Chief Steward Richard Perkins is owner of Interior Technology Services, a Fort Lauderdale- and Amsterdam-based company that specializes in the cleaning and protecting of interior fabrics, carpets and upholstery for over 30 years. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.