Boating and Boat Safety: Reduce the Odds of
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas produced
when carbon-based fuels are burned. It is odorless,
tasteless, colorless, and can cause carbon monoxide
poisoning by entering the bloodstream through
the lungs and displacing oxygen levels in the
to CO can cause nausea, headaches,
dizziness, loss of mobility, and unconsciousness.
The symptoms can be mistaken for seasickness,
fatigue, or the flu. Common sources of CO emission
on a boat include the engine, generators, cooking
equipment, and heating appliances. Even when
the boat is equipped with a carbon monoxide
detector, the alarm is unlikely to be heard
over the engine noise.
How does carbon monoxide get onboard a boat?
CO makes its way onto your boat in various ways. One way is referred to
as the “station wagon" effect - this occurs when a moving boat
creates a vacuum behind it that tends to pull exhaust fumes back into
the boat. This occurrence is worsened when the wind is behind the boat,
and the boat is traveling slightly faster than the wind is blowing. If
the effect is particularly threatening, alter your course so that the
wind is working to break the vacuum. Carbon monoxide emission is more
difficult to detect in well-tuned gas engine boats than in diesel-run
boats because diesel fumes usually have a much stronger odor.
Carbon monoxide is heavier than air and tends
to collect in cabin spaces by entering through
an open cabin door. Increase airflow throughout
the cabin by leaving the rear cabin door ajar
and by opening a window or hatch. Proper ventilation
will clear the area of exhaust fumes. Like a
car muffler, exhaust systems need frequent maintenance
in order to detect possible leaks.
Tips to avoid carbon monoxide fumes
- Inspect exhaust system regularly (every 50 hours of operation or every
90 days, whichever comes first)
- Repair any fume exhaust leaks immediately
- Dock or drop anchor at least 20 feet away from other running boats
- Change the direction of the boat if engine fumes are coming onboard
- Install a carbon monoxide detector on gas-operated boats
Is it safe to sleep on a boat?
Most CO fatalities on boats occur when occupants are asleep and gas generators
are running. For the most part, sleeping with a gas generator running
is dangerous, unless the exhaust system is positively secure and a CO
monitor is certified operational and in place. There must be a constant
flow of air throughout the cabin while sleeping.
Should I install a CO monitor?
Carbon monoxide alarms are effective only when
they are checked regularly and maintained. Their
sensors can degrade after a fairly short period
of time, rendering them less accurate. Because
they are sensitive to contaminants, CO monitors
will often sound off at the slightest change
and not shut off. Like household fire detectors,
the tendency is to disconnect and forget about
them. Have the unit serviced by a qualified
firm at least twice a season, usually at the
beginning and end of the season to ensure their
Reduce the odds of carbon monoxide poisoning
from boats by taking preventative measures and
practicing safety. Non-lethal cases of CO poisoning
are debilitating, painful and often result in
a certain degree of brain damage. Being aware
of the risk factors and symptoms of CO poisoning
is the best defense. Enjoy boating in a safer,
more conscious way.
About the Author: Alexandria Haber is
a freelance writer and is the head researcher
and content manager for http://www.carbon-monoxide-poisoning.com/.