Carbon Monoxide (CO), dubbed the silent killer, is a very real danger to boaters. CO does not have visible substance or a detectable odor, nor can you taste it in the air as it enters your boat or lungs. In fact, CO is virtually undetectable until a boater begins exhibiting symptoms. Part of what makes CO so dangerous is its density level. Though lighter than air, it is dense enough to linger on the floor of the boat, or ride along at water level, often inundating unsuspecting swimmers and relaxing boaters.
CO can kill an uneducated boater. If you plan on purchasing a boat, it is your responsibility to teach yourself and your passengers about potential CO hazards, as well as the methods to prevent such hazards from taking place. The condition of the boat is the first thing that should be addressed. Old and/or improperly tuned engines produce more CO. But, while most CO poisoning accidents occur on older boats, new boats are not exempt.
Causes of CO Collection on Boats
CO can, and often does, accumulate in inadequately ventilated areas and enclosed spaces or get trapped in blocked exhaust outlets. Learn what causes CO poisoning, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to deal with it should it occur on your boat. Because CO can gather inside, under, between, and alongside boats, certain precautions should be taken. Some locations where CO tends to gather in particular include the following:
- The back deck or swim platform, as well as in the cabin and cockpit areaeven when windows, portholes, doors and hatches are open.
- Inside, and on the water surface immediately beside and around, your boat, as well as on and around other boats in the area.
- All areas of the boat can be affected by a docked or idling motor 20 feet away.
- All areas of the boat, even in open areas with plenty of ventilation, can collect CO if your boat is idling or moving slowly.
- Enclosed areas under a boat can gather CO depending on the speed and direction of the wind.
Tips to Prevent CO Poisoning:
- Educate family and friends by taking boating safety classes and reading information provided by NIOSH Engineering Reports on Carbon Monoxide and its dangers when boating.
- Have CO detectors installed in various spots on the boat, and check to make sure they are working properly before each trip.
- Schedule and keep regular watercraft maintenance inspections by qualified technicians.
- Do not allow anyone to swim alone beside the boat, especially children.
- Do not leave children unattended in an enclosed area of a boat, such as the cabin.
- Do not swim beneath the boat or hide in cubbies of air pockets beneath watercraft.
- Do not pull a floating device, swim, drag, or water-ski less than 20 feet behind a moving boat.
- Do not mistake CO poisoning for seasickness or alcohol intoxication (Symptoms of CO poisoning can mimic the flu: headache, irritated eyes, nausea, dizziness and loss of breath).
Sources: Protect Yourself from Carbon Monoxide 5 Hidden Dangers in Your Home Department of Licensing Boating Safety Resource Center NIOSHA: Carbon Monoxide