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Generator Accidents - A Timely Reminder


Alan de Enfield
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Its cold, its wet, its dark and the batteries are not holding their charge - run the generator but BE SAFE.
 
Records of incidents related to the use of generators over the past 25 years collated by the  BSS show that 10 people have been killed and another 10 have been taken for emergency  hospital treatment in 24 incidents.  
A table of those incidents with brief details follows: 

Brief Details 

1992  Southern  English  river 
fire  A fire linked to the use of a petrol generator 

1996  Canal  fire 
Fire believed to have been caused during the refilling of the  generator with petrol. 
 
1998  East  Midlands  river 
CO  The narrowboat owner and his pet dog died of carbon  monoxide poisoning.  A portable generator and poor  ventilation are believed to have been the cause. 
 
1999  North of  England  canal 
CO  Two boaters went to sleep.  The lady woke up suffering from  the effects of gas inhalation.  Her husband was discovered  dead by the emergency services.  The inquest found the cause  of the carbon monoxide poisoning was a portable generator  found in the engine compartment.
 
2000  Southern  English  canal 
‐  The body of this boater was found at the bottom of the bed  under which was a locker for his petrol generator. There was  an open plastic petrol refuelling can at his feet.  There was  also a petrol driven chain saw and a cigarette lighter there as  well.  The generator petrol tank was full so it is likely he had  filled it up.  The coroner reported death as an accident and  the probable cause was careless handling of petrol. 

2003  West  Midlands  canal 
CO  This boater purchased the craft and lived permanently aboard  for three months before his death. The boat was very sparsely  fitted having only a gas cooker and a fairly new generator on  board.  The generator was found in the cabin with a mobile  phone charger and phone connected. The generator fuel tank  was empty.  The cause of death has been established as CO  poisoning from the generator and very high levels of the toxin  was found in his blood. 

2004  Scottish  coast 
Fire  An owner of a yacht sailing was filling petrol generator aboard  vapours are thought to have entered cabin and were ignited  by cooker that was alight at the time. The boat sank and was  a total loss. The man escaped in an inflatable tender. 

2005  Southern  English  river 
CO  A motor cruiser owner was taken to hospital with the effects  of carbon monoxide poisoning and kept in overnight. A  generator running inside vessel was believed to be the source  of the toxic fumes 

2005  Anglian  canal 
Fire  The owner of a narrowboat went ashore and left a generator  running that became the cause of a fire 

2006  N East  coast 
CO  A new crew member on a small fishing boat stayed aboard  the vessel in port. He brought electrical consumer goods  aboard and powered them from a generator running in a non gas tight hold. The fumes from the exhaust found their way  back into the accommodation space and caused his death.  

2006  E Midlands  river 
CO  A boater was taken to hospital with CO poisoning after  running a generator in his craft's engine compartment
 
2006  Anglian  Canal 
CO  The liveaboard boater was found towards the aft of his  narrowboat. In the winter he ran the generator on the back  deck of the boat which was covered by a tarpaulin. In the  summer the boater usually ran the generator on the bank. 
 
2008  N West  lake 
Fire  A newly acquired 11m wooden boat, bought for living aboard  a remote location on a lake was in the process of having  remedial works carried out. The friend of the owner who was  working on the boat, refuelled a generator in the cockpit area  and during this process petrol vapours ignited, possibly by the  lowly situated pilot light of the gas‐powered fridge in the  cabin. The fire service had to take a ferry to attend the fire as  this was quicker than taking the road. However, despite that,  by the time the fire crews arrived, the boat was already fully  alight throughout and could not be saved. The owner told the  local newspaper that it was an uninsured £13,000 total loss  and also had to pay £2000 to have the wreck removed. A  navigation authority employee who attended the scene said  to the reporter that they had to prevent the blazing craft  drifting into other boats moored nearby. 

2008  N West  canal 
Exp  Firefighters were forced to flag down a passing narrowboat to  reach the scene of an explosion which injured a man on a  midlands Canal. The man suffered serious burns when a  fireball shot through a boat.  Firefighters and a community  first responder flagged down passing narrowboats to get to  the incident and carry one of the injured to a waiting  ambulance.  A volunteer first responder with the ambulance  service, said: “The windows had all been blown out but  thankfully the boat itself hadn’t caught fire. “[The boater]  suffered potentially serious burns to his face, arms and feet  and I started treating him.  “There had been an explosion in a  generator at the front of the boat and a fireball had gone  through the cabin, blowing the windows out.” The cause  according to insurance investigators was a petrol leak from  the generator. Another boater aboard was unharmed. 

2008  E Midlands  canal 
CO  A MAN was found unconscious by emergency services after  collapsing near a generator at the front of his boat. He  suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Paramedics gave  him oxygen and then took him to a local A&E hospital, but he  was transferred to another hospital 90 miles away, for  specialist treatment.  A police spokesman said the man had  very high levels of carbon monoxide in his blood. It is believed  that he inhaled the fumes after collapsing near a generator on  the boat. 

2010  Southern  canal 
CO  A man was carrying out remedial works on a converted  commercial boat and had brought aboard a generator for  heating and lighting. Having carried out some painting works,  the generator was left running aboard to power a heater to  help dry the paint.  Later that evening the victim returned to  the vessel to refuel the generator. His body was found aboard  the boat the following morning. 
 
2010  Anglian  river 
Fire/Exp  The owner of a cabin cruiser was refuelling generator on stern  of his vessel when the metal fuel can touched an uninsulated  battery connection. This caused a spark that ignited the fuel  vapour. That set his clothes alight and he ended up in the  river.   A local newspaper report gave this account: A man was  with his family and a friend in a riverside pub’s beer garden  when he smelled smoke. "It was about 8.30pm. ..."   "I looked towards the river and saw flames and then I heard a  scream quickly followed by a splash.  "I jumped a fence and saw a man struggling in the water, so I  got hold of him and tried to pull him out of the river, but he  slipped back.   "At the time I thought I couldn’t get a grip on him, I thought  because of the water, but I later realised it must have been  the skin on his arms. It was literally peeling off because he’d  been so badly burned."  The rescuer eventually managed to drag the boater from the  river but the drama was not over as the boater warned his  rescuer there were gas canisters still on board the burning  boat.  At this point the boat was completely engulfed by flames and  the rescuer's friend took the boater aside to try and calm him  down while the emergency services were called.  The rescuers said "There were about 50 people in the pub  who’d come out to see what was going on so, with the help of  staff, we tried to get everyone back inside. We were worried  there could be a serious explosion."  The rescuers friend said "The boater’s arms and body were  completely covered in burns and his skin was hot to the touch  and just falling off. I got him inside the pub where staff took  him to the kitchen to pour cold water over him."  Police and fire crews quickly arrived on the scene and the  blaze was eventually extinguished shortly after 10pm. The  victim had suffered 50 per cent burns to his body and was  taken by ambulance to a local A&E hospital. He was later  transferred to a specialist burns unit 25 miles away. 

2010  Northern  canal 
Fire/Exp  A narrowboat’s owner had put the portable generator in the  engine space with all the hatches and doors closed to charge  batteries and run a fridge. The skipper noticed a change in  generator noise and went to investigate. He switched off the  generator and an explosion occurred. There was extensive  damage to the structure of the steel boat as well as damage  to the furniture and fitments. The owner suffered burns. He  thought the generator would be unsafe on the towpath. 
 
2011  Anglian  coast 
CO   A COUPLE almost died from carbon monoxide poisoning after  a generator leaked on their yacht.  Their craft was at anchor  in a coastal inlet, when they started to feel the effects.  The  lady fell unconscious, leaving her husband battling to get  them to safety. A leak in an improvised exhaust connected to  the generator allowed exhaust fumes to flood deadly carbon  monoxide into the boat.  The skipper was quoted in the local  newspaper: “The first point I was aware something was going  on was when I got weird muscle spasms.  “Then my wife  passed out and I knew that something was very wrong. I  became very weak myself, and I couldn’t have been far off  passing out.   

2012  N West  coast 
Fire  An 18m former fishing vessel was completely destroyed by  fire.  The fire broke out just after midnight and the fire spread  to a nearby jetty building at the site.   The fire service found  access was difficult as the boat was lying on mud banks,  particularly in the dark. Sourcing water to use was also a  problem for the fire‐fighters and six engines had to form a  relay. The owners were not aboard, but the fire service  understands that the owners spent some time living on it.   The probable cause was thought to be a fault with a  generator.  2012  S East river Fire  An 18m narrowboat caught fire on moorings. The navigation  authority reporting the incident advised that the cause was  probably linked to the use of a generator may be linked.
 
2013  N West  lake 
CO   A “suitcase” type portable petrol‐driven generator had an  improvised installation in the motor cruiser’s engine bay. The  generator had been fitted with a non‐standard exhaust  system that when run under load, detached from both the  generator and the outlet on the vessel’s side. As a result, the  generator’s exhaust fumes filled the engine bay and filtered  through gaps in an internal bulkhead into the aft cabin where  a mother and daughter were asleep. The boat owner awoke  from his bunk in the boat’s forward cabin, to find he was  suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning but he was  eventually able to raise the alarm. Emergency services could  not revive mother and daughter. The nature of the generators  installation also introduced additional potential fire and  explosion hazards to the boat.  2014  Southern  canal  CO   Neighbouring boaters alert the emergency services when they  saw the boat owner slumped in chair with the body of his dog  alongside.   Inquest found that the boater had been using a  portable generator while watching a film on his laptop when  he died. He had his generator running on his back deck with a  canopy over it. 
 
2015  Midlands  canal 
Fire  A liveaboard owner of a small cabin cruiser was forced to leap  overboard and his guest had a narrow escape when the small  cabin cruiser they were on went up in flames. The breakfast  time incident resulted in the death of the man’s pet dog and  the total loss of his home. The boat was already well alight  when the two fire crews reached the site. A local newspaper  quoted the fire officer in charge: “It appears the fire was  caused when the owner had been refilling an onboard  generator. The fumes and petrol had created a fireball.“ The  owner was forced to jump into the water while the other  occupant was able to get off onto the footpath.“ Sadly the  dog that was inside died.” 
Edited by Alan de Enfield
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Almost 50/50 CO poisoning and fire. 

Moored for lunch behind a trad narrowboat running a generator just inside the open back doors with the slide closed. The boater then proceeded to refill the petrol tank with generator still running. We untied and left! 

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The thing that is most surprising is out of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of generator-hours each year on our inland waterways, only approximately one death a year results. Lets keep a sense of proportion about this.

Anyone care to have a stab at estimating how many hours of generator use there actually are each year?

 

"2000  Southern  English  canal 
‐  The body of this boater was found at the bottom of the bed  under which was a locker for his petrol generator. There was  an open plastic petrol refuelling can at his feet.  There was  also a petrol driven chain saw and a cigarette lighter there as  well.  The generator petrol tank was full so it is likely he had  filled it up.  The coroner reported death as an accident and  the probable cause was careless handling of petrol. "

 

This one I find intriguing. I had no idea normal levels of petrol vapour are that dangerous to breath.

Edited by Mike the Boilerman
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28 minutes ago, Mike the Boilerman said:

The thing that is most surprising is out of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of generator-hours each year on our inland waterways, only approximately one death a year results. Lets keep a sense of proportion about this.

Anyone care to have a stab at estimating how many hours of generator use there actually are each year?

 

"2000  Southern  English  canal 
‐  The body of this boater was found at the bottom of the bed  under which was a locker for his petrol generator. There was  an open plastic petrol refuelling can at his feet.  There was  also a petrol driven chain saw and a cigarette lighter there as  well.  The generator petrol tank was full so it is likely he had  filled it up.  The coroner reported death as an accident and  the probable cause was careless handling of petrol. "

 

This one I find intriguing. I had no idea normal levels of petrol vapour are that dangerous to breath.

Hydrocarbon poisoning is used by some to rid their homes of rattle snakes in some parts of the USA.

Where they have a sort of basement which is open at the sides the critters can get in easily . By sloshing petrol around the vapours linger and do the job. I recall reading this somewhere  

I have taken out ant nests like this by pouring some petrol on and allowing it to soak in, the vapour seeps into the galleries of the nest and do the job 

Phil 

Edited by Phil Ambrose
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1 minute ago, Phil Ambrose said:

I have taken out ant nests like this by pouring some petrol on and allowing it to soak in, the vapour seeps into the galleries of the best and do the job 

I have done 'similar' with red-diesel and a match (on a wasp nest).

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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33 minutes ago, Mike the Boilerman said:

The thing that is most surprising is out of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of generator-hours each year on our inland waterways, only approximately one death a year results. Lets keep a sense of proportion about this.

Anyone care to have a stab at estimating how many hours of generator use there actually are each year?

 

"2000  Southern  English  canal 
‐  The body of this boater was found at the bottom of the bed  under which was a locker for his petrol generator. There was  an open plastic petrol refuelling can at his feet.  There was  also a petrol driven chain saw and a cigarette lighter there as  well.  The generator petrol tank was full so it is likely he had  filled it up.  The coroner reported death as an accident and  the probable cause was careless handling of petrol. "

 

This one I find intriguing. I had no idea normal levels of petrol vapour are that dangerous to breath.

It looks as if it drowns you https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/561047/petrol_general_information.pdf

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49 minutes ago, Naughty Cal said:

Still one too many when the effects are so widely known and easily avoided.

 

Well yes, obviously. I guess my point was relly that given the stupidity of so many genny users one sees on a regular basis, I'm staggered at how few deaths there are. 

All the deaths from CO except one seem to have been caused by running the genny under cover rather than outside.  

One wonders how many gennies are regularly used under cover and no death results. Those stats would be even more interesting!

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The aftermath of a faulty gas powered generator, sited adjacent what was a shed. The neighbour who owned both generator and shed is a perfectionist and would have set it up properly.  

FB_IMG_1516716223843.jpg

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it IS easy to use them properly though isn't it? - I mean, ok... so mine is currently running away on the bank side whilst I have the tumble-dryer on to save running the engine but I have the sense to close the rear couple of portholes ... the rest as still open and neither co alarms are showing anything.  

 

There is a chap about 200 metres up the cut from me, that puts his genny on his daughters boat (moored along side his own) UNDER the tarp at the back and then charges his own whilst she's in the cabin.  I pointed it out to him the other day and he didn't seem to care... what MORE can you do?  PERHAPS it's Darwin's plan, weeding out the idiots.

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I wonder how many don't get reported or picked up by the BSS.   There was one a few years ago near my mooring where a cruiser was being refilled from a can and exploded.  It put the lad (about 16 or 17) in hospital with bad burns and pretty much wrecked the cruiser.  That one doesn't appear on the list above.

ETA:  Whilst not caused by a generator, my previous boat's owner died on the boat and his wife was hospitalised, both through CO poisoning.  It was not clear what the source was, although the DTI removed the gas fridge, but the size of flame on those would be unlikely to be enough.  It was suspected that the cooker rings were run and poor ventilation was the cause.  He was a pharmacist so you would think he was aware of the risks.

Edited by dor
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What are the rules regardng small  petrol appliances on boats where they are not designed for boats and have therefore no specific manufacturer instructions.

I anticpate using a small gen from the towpath, but where is it to be stored, ditto petrol? Common sense dictates they should not be inside the cabin, or be able to leak in to bilge.

PS also ... does the gas locker have to be kept clear of miscellaneous items?

Edited by LadyG
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9 minutes ago, LadyG said:

What are the rules regardng small  petrol appliances on boats where they are not designed for boats and have therefore no specific manufacturer insructions.

I anticpate using a small gen from the towpath, but where is it to be stored, ditto petrol? 

PS Does the gas locker have to be kept clear of miscellaneous items?

The only thing allowed in yer gas locker is gas. You could however I suppose store petrol in a gas locker on its own? Problem is people don't. Lifting the gennie on and off and storing petrol and inclement weather are all reasons not to have a petrol gennie. I doubt there are many people who havnt used them, I used them years ago but not any more. I would far rather use the boat engine with the appropriate electrical producing gadgets attached as I do know. Costs are similar over the years but the hassle is far less using main engine.

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14 minutes ago, LadyG said:

What are the rules regardng small  petrol appliances on boats where they are not designed for boats and have therefore no specific manufacturer intructions.

I anticpate using a small gen from the towpath, but where ia it to be stored, ditto petrol?

There are those that say :

"Just remove it from the boat when its due for its BSS Examination".

But, it (generator & fuel) should be stored in an external cockpit locker of similar design to the gas locker, ie no openings into the boat and an 'overboard' drain.

Petrol fumes are heavier than air, & will (if given the chance) sink into the bilges, one day when the level of fumes reaches the bottom of the gas powered fridge the boat goes 'BOOM'

The criteria for BSS inspections is much more 'severe' if there is petrol, or petrol powered appliances on board.

 

EG - having a connected gas powered fridge on board a petrol engine boat is a problem,

From the BSS "Mandatory Guidance Notes linked to Conditions of Registration – v1.0 June 2012" 

Non-compliant LPG fridges on petrol engine boats Non room-sealed dual (electric/LPG) fuelled refrigerators installed in boats with petrol propulsion engines may not be provided with any LPG supply pipework unless the burner, combustion air and exhaust arrangements comply with the BSS requirements. In the event that a non-compliant LPG dual-fuel refrigerator is retained by the owner for use solely with electric or as storage, examinations may only be completed when any fridge LPG supply pipework and/or hose is removed at least to the branch ‘T’ joint with the supply line.  The T-joint should ideally be replaced with an in-line or elbow joint or the pipe replaced with a continuous length.  The use of a stop-end to a short length of supported spur pipe is acceptable.

 

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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7 minutes ago, mrsmelly said:

The only thing allowed in yer gas locker is gas. You could however I suppose store petrol in a gas locker on its own? Problem is people don't. Lifting the gennie on and off and storing petrol and inclement weather are all reasons not to have a petrol gennie. I doubt there are many people who havnt used them, I used them years ago but not any more. I would far rather use the boat engine with the appropriate electrical producing gadgets attached as I do know. Costs are similar over the years but the hassle is far less using main engine.

I've just bought a 1000W vacuum cleaner, does that mean I can run it off a 1000w inverter?

Edited by LadyG
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7 minutes ago, LadyG said:

I've jut bough a 1000W vacuum cleaner, does that mean I can run it off a 1000w inverter?

Yes and no. If its a quality inverter such as mastervolt then yes it will run it. If its a cheapie it may or may not. I have owned two mastervolt inverters and both ran stuff over the rated output on the odd occasion. edit to add PROVIDED sufficient battery power available.

Edited by mrsmelly
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5 minutes ago, LadyG said:

I've jut bough a 1000W vacuum cleaner, does that mean I can run it off a 1000w inverter?

If it is 1000w continuous rating it should be OK.

Most inverters tend to quote a 'bit on the optimistic side' and you need to check is the quoted rating is continuous or 'start up' rating.

Edit :

Thinking about it - 'probably not'.

Things with motors use a considerable amount more to 'get the motor going' - up to 2 or 3 times their rated wattage, a purely resistive load (such as an electric fire) will be a fixed load and if it is 1000w it will be that at start up and running.

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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54 minutes ago, Quaysider said:

There is a chap about 200 metres up the cut from me, that puts his genny on his daughters boat (moored along side his own) UNDER the tarp at the back and then charges his own whilst she's in the cabin.  I pointed it out to him the other day and he didn't seem to care... what MORE can you do?  PERHAPS it's Darwin's plan, weeding out the idiots.

There is a boat which I walk the dog past regularly - Gennie running under a tarpaulin which coves the back deck with one small corner peeled back for ventilation (the exhaust is set to 'blow' out the hole but I'd guess a minor change in wind and...). The tarpaulin is secured to the rear of the roof so if there is a back door and it isn't air tight...

I must have been gently suggesting he desist (and he gently suggesting I mind my own business) for years.

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3 hours ago, Mike the Boilerman said:

The thing that is most surprising is out of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of generator-hours each year on our inland waterways, only approximately one death a year results. Lets keep a sense of proportion about this.

Anyone care to have a stab at estimating how many hours of generator use there actually are each year?

 

"2000  Southern  English  canal 
‐  The body of this boater was found at the bottom of the bed  under which was a locker for his petrol generator. There was  an open plastic petrol refuelling can at his feet.  There was  also a petrol driven chain saw and a cigarette lighter there as  well.  The generator petrol tank was full so it is likely he had  filled it up.  The coroner reported death as an accident and  the probable cause was careless handling of petrol. "

 

This one I find intriguing. I had no idea normal levels of petrol vapour are that dangerous to breath.

I'd be curious about the number of generator hours actually in use, personal opinion (how are you going to get reliable stats?) is that probably no more than about one in five mobile liveaboard boats use a generator (on a marina mooring they'd use the shoreline) and, as a guess only a nominal number of non-liveaboards. Add to that whether or not there is someone at BSS whose role it is to collate incidents or coroners reports, I don't know, and I would suggest that reporting is a lot lower than the actual number of incidents and near misses.

Having done a Hazchem course many years ago with Fire Brigade input, they demonstrated that under the right conditions it is possible to ignite an exposed bucket of petrol from 60 feet away ( a boat length) which is the reason that I wont have any petrol on the boat. If you carelessly split some diesel in the bilge, not a real problem, carelessly spilling petrol in the bilge is a whole new ball game.

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11 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

No electrocutions ? 

I 'electrocuted' several items of electrical equipment some years ago, I started a diesel generator we had and boom! Tv, DVD, computer power supply, amongst other things. Whatever had been regulating the voltage had ceased working. 

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53 minutes ago, BWM said:

I 'electrocuted' several items of electrical equipment some years ago, I started a diesel generator we had and boom! Tv, DVD, computer power supply, amongst other things. Whatever had been regulating the voltage had ceased working. 

It gives a whole new meaning to ‘the regulation’

2 hours ago, LadyG said:

I've just bought a 1000W vacuum cleaner, does that mean I can run it off a 1000w inverter?

Is it a 1000W inverter or a 1000VA inverter?

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2 hours ago, LadyG said:

I've just bought a 1000W vacuum cleaner, does that mean I can run it off a 1000w inverter?

 

Possibly but unlikely.

(Why on earth would you think it could ever be as simple as matching the power of the appliance to the power of the inverter? :giggles:)

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