Carbon Monoxide Awareness for Boaters

A powerboat emitting carbon monoxide while docked. Photo Courtesy of The U.S. Coast Guard

A powerboat emitting carbon monoxide while docked. Photo Courtesy of The U.S. Coast Guard

Carbon monoxide can come from anything that burns a carbon-based fuel (gasoline, propane, charcoal, oil etc.) It can be created by engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, heaters etc. CO acts a lot like air. It doesn’t rise or fall, but spreads evenly throughout an enclosed space and is very toxic. It can cause headache, dizziness, nausea, redness to the face and fatigue. These symptoms are similar to those of sea sickness or the flu. Eventually, CO leads to loss of consciousness and eventually, death. Since carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and is approximately the same weight as air, the best prevention is to ensure that the boat is well ventilated.

Every year, people on or around boats are overcome by the effects of carbon monoxide, because CO gets into your lungs and prevents your body from obtaining oxygen. Boaters need to take steps to prevent carbon monoxide problems:

  • only heat the cabin or cook when in a well-ventilated area
  • have regular, professional, boat inspections
  • install and maintain marine-grade CO detectors in living spaces before every trip. Remember the batteries.
  • check regularly for exhaust leaks from CO sources: engines, generators, propane appliances
  • be aware of boat design areas where fumes may gather
  • warn swimmers to stay away from stern while generators and engines are in operation.
  • warn swimmers to stay away from the high risk areas – under swim platforms and between the pontoons of houseboats
  • Don’t “teak surf” – hanging off the back of the swim platform when the engine is on and the boat is in motion If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, remove yourself (or the victim) away from the area where the gas may be present and seek medical assistance.
  • Note: Carbon monoxide can build up when:
    -two vessels are rafted to each other
    -when docked alongside a seawall
    -when bow rides high
    -a fuel burning appliance or engine is running while the vessel is not moving

–Courtesy of the CPS-ECP Boating Basics Course

Here are some more tips on detectors from BoatUS.

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