The Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a danger for boaters year round, but that’s especially true in winter when biting winds and cold weather make pulling out boat covers and going below deck a deadly temptation. These confined spaces are more susceptible to trapping carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas produced by gasoline-powered engines that could poison or even kill someone who breathes too much of it. Carbon monoxide can build up above the water near the water platform, in the air space beneath the stern deck, or on or near the swim deck. Due to back drafting, traveling at slow speeds, idling in the water or even a nearby vessel, carbon monoxide could infiltrate your boat’s cabin or cockpit without your knowledge.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills just under 400 Americans per year with a third of these deaths happening in the winter, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But as the saying goes, knowledge is power. Learn the warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, seizures and confusion. Carbon monoxide can be fatal with prolonged exposure to low concentrations or brief exposure to high concentrations.
Take Preventative Measures
The first step to ensuring your safety is installing and regularly testing carbon monoxide detectors in your boat’s confined areas. Next, stay away from exhaust vents while they are running. Schedule regular engine, exhaust system, and generator maintenance. Never block exhaust outlets that could cause dangerous backups in the cabin and cockpit areas. Finally, keep a distance of 20 feet from other boats whether in the water or at the dock.
If Disaster Strikes
If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, treat it seriously. Flood the boat with fresh air: open hatches, crack the windows, roll back the cover. Turn the boat so the wind takes the exhaust away. Shut off the engines and consider seeking medical help immediately.