Bass Boat Explosion Likely Linked To Lithium Batteries

Angler escapes with minor injuries in freak incident at the boat ramp.

Mike Bolton | October 27, 2023

Here’s the aftermath of a boat burnt to a crisp from what was likely caused by lithium batteries.

Piloting a powerful boat among a throng of racing bass boats at daylight at the start of a bass tournament is a danger that anglers accept. Rickie Knight, an angler from Selma, Ala., never dreamed that the real danger might come from just backing his boat down the ramp on a practice day.

The 40-year veteran of bass tournament fishing was launching his bass boat on Miller’s Ferry on the Alabama River last weekend when it exploded and burst into flames. The fire burned until firefighters arrived, and then the flames intensified as they sprayed water on the fire. The fire was finally put out when they punched holes in the side of the boat and drowned the fire.

Knight’s fishing buddy that day, Chris Henry, was in the driver’s seat when the explosion occurred. He dove out of the boat onto the concrete and escaped with only a twisted ankle.

Knight’s $67,000 bass boat was a total loss.

What caused the explosion and fire? The culprit was traced to the boat’s lithium batteries.

“I put the batteries on charge about 11 p.m. the night before,” he said. “I left home about 4 a.m. and got to the ramp about 35 minutes later, and it was too dark to launch. We sat around talking until there was enough daylight to see.”

Knight turned both power switches on and punched in the code to activate the electronics.

“It was just short of being in the water when I leaned down to release the boat from he trailer,” he said. “That’s when I heard a loud, ‘boom.’ I asked Chris what happened, and he said something blew up. I asked him if he was okay, and he said that he hurt his ankle a little bit.

“The engine never tried to crank. I knew something was weird because way up the ramp the engine started lowering on its own.”

Knight speculates that the boom he heard was the boat’s rear deck lid blowing open and then shutting.

“It was just a matter of minutes, and we could smell an electrical fire. That’s when I called 911. The local volunteer fire department and a deputy arrived in 10 minutes.  When they sprayed water on it, that’s when the fire went to another level.”

Lithium and water creates an explosive reaction according to experts. The fire was eventually put out, but the boat was destroyed. It had to be removed by a rollback wrecker. Knight said the boat had begun to act weird several days before.

“The graphs were not clear like they were supposed to be,” he said. “Then, the boat wouldn’t crank. Then the graphs wouldn’t turn on. I thought something was probably wrong with the charger, so I put it on charge. Rangers have so many safety features I couldn’t imagine anything like this happening. I’ve had several other fishermen tell me that they would never use lithium batteries because you couldn’t trust them.”

The boat from the console back was completely melted. Knight said the boat was insured, but he would likely take a major hit.

“I had put a new trolling motor and all new electronics on it,” he said.

The well-known tournament fisherman says he shudders to think what would have happened had the explosion and fire occurred while he was on the water and fishing.

“Thank God I wasn’t on the water, especially with me wife who loves to fish with me,” he said. “She can’t swim.”

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