Boat explosion under investigation

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The cause of an explosion that burned a 33-foot Sea Ray to the waterline and sent six people to the hospital with serious injuries was under investigation.

The incident underscores the importance of a simple two-minute check every time you leave the dock, says a spokesperson with the investigating agency.

The 33-foot Sea Ray burned to the waterline following an explosion in the area of the stern.

Fourteen people, including six children, were aboard the 1995 Sea Ray May 9 when it departed Apollo Beach, Fla., bound for Pine Key — also known as Beer Can Island. The boat was anchored in shallow water on the southwest part of the island when, shortly after noon, an explosion at the stern of the boat set it on fire, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A generator was reportedly running at the time of the incident.

FWC, along with the Tampa Fire Department’s Investigations Unit, is currently looking into the cause. Though this accident did not happen at the fuel dock or while getting under way, it should still serve as a reminder to be vigilant about gas fumes, says Gary Morse, spokesman for FWC.

“Typically fumes in the bilge are ignited by an electric spark,” says Morse. “We don’t know that’s what happened here, but regardless there is a good message to be learned.”

Before leaving the dock, open the hatch cover and ventilate the bilge with a blower for at least five minutes and remember to check fuel hoses and electrical connections — every time you head out, says Morse.

“That only takes a minute or two — feeling around and looking for loose [connections]. Use your eyes, your nose and your touch,” says Morse.

The Sea Ray was powered by twin gasoline inboards, though Morse wasn’t sure of the horsepower. Eleven family members were on board at the time of the explosion. Six were seriously injured, including one child, and airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. Four children were treated at the scene for minor injuries. One child aboard the boat and three family members wading nearby were uninjured, according to FWC.

“I’ve never seen a 33-footer burn like that — there was virtually nothing left. It’s a miracle that people survived,” says Morse. “There’s not a lot of time to react.”

This article originally appeared in the Florida and the South Home Waters Section of the July 2009 issue.