One good ‘sniff’ may save a life aboard

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At the close of the Memorial Day weekend a 32-foot powerboat with five people aboard pulled up to a fuel dock. Moments later, after they filled up, an explosion ripped through the boat, separating it into clamshell-like halves. In an instant a 25-year-old woman was dead. The other four occupants and a fuel dock attendant were hospitalized.

Saddest of all, the accident may have been preventable. A newspaper reported that investigators found that the recently purchased used boat, which was being refueled by its new owner for the first time, may have had a fuel system gasket "give way," or fail, which allowed gasoline fumes to escape and accumulate below decks.

Although the owner had properly turned the engine compartment blower on — a required procedure any time a boat is refueled — not enough of the explosive fumes had been cleared before an engine backfire ignited the blast.

A simple sniff test could have prevented the tragedy, BoatUS says. "While it appears the owner did the right thing by having the blower on to safely remove any fumes from the engine compartment area, he may not have performed the ‘sniff’ test — lifting the engine compartment hatch in an attempt to smell any lingering gasoline fumes," says Bob Adriance, director of damage avoidance at BoatUS.

Click here for the full press release, and click here for the organization’s webpage on safe refueling.