When a personal watercraft caught fire and exploded on the evening of July 18, 2014, two Virginia Beach women suffered serious injuries and burns. According to a report from television station WVEC, the accident occurred at a floating dock on the Lynnhaven River off Great Neck Road. Both women are expected to recover, but an eyewitness described a life-threatening scene with "a loud boom. It sounded like a bomb -- it was that loud of a noise. I looked out the window and I saw a huge plume of smoke and fire -- about 20-feet tall."
The fire began as one of the victims was attempting to start the PWC's inboard gasoline engine. This type of accident is a well-recognized risk for all boats, Jet Skis and other watercraft with inboard engines. They primarily occur when combustible vapors build up inside the engine compartment or other open spaces inside the hull. Federal regulations require powerboats and other larger craft to have one or more fans called bilge blowers to vent such fumes. The fans switch on before the engine sparks to reduce fire risks.
As the experts who maintain the website Investigate Fires noted in 2012, however, no "currently manufactured personal watercraft come equipped with bilge blowers, nor do any of the manufacturers offer bilge blowers for aftermarket installation."
Until the makers of PWCs like Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and WaveRunners step up to address this risk in the way other reactional boat manufacturers have, PWC users must be cautious when starting their watercraft's engine. Fuel hoses, seals and gaskets must be inspected and replaced regularly. Spilled fuel must be mopped up quickly and completely, and any strong odor of gasoline must be taken seriously as a potential danger.
As a Virginia Beach-based personal injury attorney with experience helping victims of boat and PWC accidents, I wish the women injured in the fire on the Lynnhaven River full and speedy recoveries.