THE BOAT LIFE SURVIVES - WAREHOUSE BOAT FIRE MUSKEGON. What's Next?
Author: Roger Zuidema -- Ambassador Muskegon Boat Life
Shock, anger, disbelief and a sense of dispair are common, when one hears about a fire breaking out, let alone a warehouse full of 150 boats. On Monday, March 6, smoke billowed out of a boat storage building number 3 at Safe Harbor Great Lakes Marina in Muskegon, Michigan. Luckily, everyone was reported safe, but one can only imagine the emotions dealing with loss . Boating is special too many. As a Muskegon boater myself, I couldn't believe the reports. The life-style generated on the water, creates lifetime memories and is a main source of relaxation and fun for thousands in the Muskegon area. We all feel for the owners of damaged boats. It could have easily been ours. Dealing with the uncertainty of boat damage and eager to hear updates, I'm sure those effected wait anxiously. So what's next. I spent some time researching some questions about boat damage and would love to share my research.
What types of boats were in the warehouse?
A larger boat storage warehouse like building #3 would hold numerous types and sizes of boats. Used boat prices vary. 20 to 30 foot bow-riders average cost range from $15,000 to $50,000. Cabin Cruiser style boats from 30 to 50 feet range from $100,000 to $750,000 dollars. The calculated average of boat damaged could be $25,000. Damage estimates easily raise to the $3 million dollar mark, excluding the cost of repairs and cleaning the building.
How are boat owners dealing with loss?
Numerous owners comments show the deep feelings and emotions that are dealt with. As reported on WZZM 13 Matt George put it this way. “[I'm] bummed out my summer is potentially could be on hiatus," said boater Matt George, who has stored his boat at Great Lakes for five years. "But then there's silver lining around the cloud. They're insured, I'm insured. So it could be actually a blessing in disguise. It can be a chance for a new boat or free from the burden of a boat," he said.
Did all 150 boats catch on fire and have the same damage?
Reported by WZZM TV13 in an interview with Deputy Director of the City of Muskegon Fire Department Jay Paulson provided details as to the extent of the damage caused by the fire. "All 150 of the boats stored inside of the marina are thought to have sustained some sort of damage from the fire, smoke or the heat. The fire began with one 39-foot boat in the building, and is thought to have spread to only three or four boats inside of the building. But all the boats inside were affected either by smoke and heat, or both," Paulson says.
From reports, 3 to 4 boats actually caught fire, but with fiberglass hulls, the heat and smoke damage seems to be the biggest problem. Let's explore. Fiberglass boats can be even more dangerous when they burn because of as they melt, they may release toxic chemicals into the air. An article made public by Freedom Boat Club mentioned, "Today's fiberglass/composite boats burn very quickly, and produce large volumes of toxic smoke that is equally as dangerous." We see by photos, the smoke coming out of the warehouse was intense and smoke damage could be the greatest cause of loss.
So how quickly are fiberglass hulls structurally impacted by heat?
One can certainly see visible damage to a boat hulls, but is invisible damage present? I looked into some chat rooms posts and found this interesting conversation.
Q: I am contemplating purchasing a boat that has been damaged by fire. The fiberglass appears to be mostly intact, but I was wondering if there may be problems that are not readily visible. Does anyone have any experience with such repairs, and if so, what I should be looking for?
A: If there's evidence of fire damage to the glass itself, it's probably a bad idea. Above 60, 80, 100 Celsius (140 to 170 F), depending on resin, the resins that hold fiberglass together begin to rapidly decompose, leaving weak spots and bubbles in the laminate. The result is hard and looks fine, but will fail catastrophically under a sudden load. I would strongly recommend retaining an accredited surveyor to do a thorough structural inspection. Without a good surveyor you have no way of knowing what is going on inside the possibly damaged laminates.
According to a boat repair company, "Smoke can be devastating to a vessel. Once smoke gets into fabrics on a boat like vinyl, fabric, wood, rope and more, it's nearly impossible to get out. That means your boat will ALWAYS smell like smoke or you are tasked with replacement of the porous surfaces that "soaked up" those toxic fumes."
Many experts suggest that a good surveyor is critical to take a look at the extent of damages. I wondered, who are the professional surveyors in Muskegon? Upon a quick google search Bluefin Marine Consultants was the top hit (https://bluefinmc.com/)
What other situation might boat owners come across when filing a claim?
In a boater chat room at boatdesign.net, member "orleajo" was struggling with his insurance company stating, "I am an unfortunate owner of a boat that was in a large Marina fire. I am haggling with Insurance company on the way heat damage is being assessed. Do you know of written authoritative documentation the subject of heat damage to fiberglass boats? Are you an expert in the field?" A google search came up with no good answers.
Experts boat cleaners outside of Michigan like Service Master reports on their website "Yachts and ships are built differently than homes on land, we understand this at ServiceMaster Elite. Soot can spread into areas that are hidden but can cause significant damage to steel surfaces through flash rust and integrity degradation. We know that following a fire damage, immediate corrosion control is important to protect your yacht from long term damage." The Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance site claims, "A watercraft is considered a total loss if the estimated cost to repair exceeds 75% of its actual cash value (ACV)."
So how do you get you boat back in the water?
It's going to take some time. The process can be agonizing, but with due diligence, one can make it through. The boat US article (www.boatus.com) reminds us about the steps taken when accidents happen.
Step One: Reporting the Claim
The first step is pretty similar to how auto insurance works: you contact your insurance company, either by phone or online. Note: This is a good time to take photos of the damage for your records.)
Step Two: Protect Your Investment
All policies require that an insured take all necessary steps to protect the boat and its equipment from further loss.
Step Three: Get an Estimate
The next step illustrates another difference between auto and boat policies. Because of the millions of claims auto insurers deal with every year, they often contract with body shops who do the estimate, repair, and billing. With a boat claim, on the other hand, the insurance company will usually send out a representative, who could be a general adjuster or marine surveyor depending on the extent of the damage, to investigate what happened.
Step Four: Submit the Estimate
Once you have the estimate from your chosen repair facility (or if an adjuster or surveyor provided the estimate), the BoatUS claims department will review it. If it's fair and reasonable and related to the loss, the claims department will approve it and provide you with a settlement letter detailing your loss-related settlement.
Step Five: Get Your Boat Fixed
While there are a number of great professionals that are skilled at boat restoration, with the amount of boats needing repair in the area, wait time could be long. Here are a few options.
So your boat was declared a total loss. Now what? Are there used boat to buy?
People looking to replace a used boat can expect low inventory and high cost. The site www.arizton.com gives market reports and states, "The U.S. recreational boat market was valued at USD 16.26 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 26.18 billion by 2027, .... A recreational boat is used for several activities, including cruising, water-sports, and fishing. In 2021 around 1.1 million pre-owned boats were sold. The established markets of the US are expected to witness high demand for recreational boats during the forecast period due to the increased adoption of recreational boats in these regions. The market caters to several opportunities for the vendors."
The boating life-style will survive!
Muskegon Boat Life ambassadors are boating enthusiasts, who love to have fun on the water and promote the Muskegon Lake venue. This life-style consists of special feelings, as you enjoy time with family and friends. We look forward to the summer. We shudder at the thought of it being taken away. Ask any boater how they detach from everyday life, and they would likely tell you that spending quality time on the water is the most powerful way to relax and unwind. Already many ambassadors have reached out to families impacted, offering help and support. While the fire is a set-back, knowing many of the boaters, I would presume that the boating lifestyle in Muskegon will survive. #muskegonboatlifestrong
Quick Facts --
According to the United States Coast Guard's 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, there were 5,265 boating accidents that year in the United States. Forty-seven of those accidents involved the ignition of fuel or vapor, and one of those accidents resulted in a casualty and forty-six lead to injuries. There were likely many more boat fires that were not reported to the Coast Guard as well.
Reference sites and more information found at:
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Founding Ambassador Roger Zuidema shares and expresses his opinion on fun, development, preservation and Lake education. Enjoy.