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May 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Your Battery Charger: a Real Risk of Liveaboard Fire

from the May, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Fire aboard a vessel is terrifying. It can take hold instantaneously. A recent video of the Indonesian liveaboard MV WAOW burning shows how much is left afterward. The heat generated is enough to melt scuba tanks.

Every vessel has a crewman on watch 24 hours per day, for this among many other reasons.

For the crew to check for the possible outbreak of fire requires access to every part of the vessel at all times, but naturally this conflicts with the wishes of most liveaboard passengers who require privacy. Nonetheless, the crew must enforce a strict regime of fire safety, which includes removing any risk of cabin fire.

One potential source of fire is battery chargers, so most vessels require that passengers always charge their camera and light batteries in the vessel's public areas, often providing specific charging stations.

Our travel writer, reporting on MV Taka in the Solomons, tells us that, contrary to this rule, the crew told passengers to charge their equipment in their cabins, even reporting that the multi-charger she used started to catch fire when it was plugged in.

Internationally, electrical voltage tends to be 220v. Modern 'smart' chargers automatically adapt. However, equipment designated for use in the US may not be so smart and is rated to only 110v. Most vessels have both voltages available, but it's important to know what you plug into. It's not just a matter of using the appropriate plug adapter.

The wife of a representative of a well-known liveaboard franchise, visiting London for the International Dive Show not so many years ago, plugged in her 110v American hair dryer into a UK 240v electrical circuit and managed to burn down the top floor of the Customs House Hotel. Everyone was safely evacuated and rebooked in other hotels. Things are different at sea.

Be warned. Do not leave any electrical item plugged in and unattended on any boat. Your life and the lives of those around you may depend on it.

The decision by the crew of MV Taka to allow battery charging in cabins was unconscionable and foolhardy. A crew from a developing country may not know the finer points of electricity. However, they risk everything including their own livelihoods. At best, the passengers could have ended up sitting in the dive skiffs wondering how they were going to get home without passports.

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