Carbon monoxide (CO), known as the silent killer, is an odorless and tasteless gas that can deplete your oxygen to the point of death. The gas enters the bloodstream through the lungs and displaces the oxygen your body needs to breathe.
CO is produced from the burnt emissions of a fuel ignited motor and is emitted from the exhaust ports of the motorized engine of a boat. There have been two CO incidents in Utah in the past two weeks, both of them involving children. Both children are expected to fully recover.
CO can build up in boats from:
- Back Drafting. It can cause CO to build up inside the cabin, cockpit and bridge when a boat is operated at a high box angle, is improperly or heavily loaded or has an opening that draws in the exhaust.
- Travelling at slow speeds or idling. These two things can cause CO to build up in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge, aft deck or in an open area. Wind from the aft section of the boat can increase this buildup of CO.
- Generators. On large houseboats, generators oftentimes vent to the rear of the boat where there is a swim deck. CO that builds up in the air space beneath, on or near the swim deck can kill someone in seconds.
- Other vessels. Exhaust from another vessel that is docked, beached or anchored alongside your boat can emit CO into the cabin and cockpit of your boat. Even with properly vented exhaust, your boat should be a minimum of 20 feet from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine.
- Blockage of exhaust outlets. Blockage can cause CO to accumulate in the cabin and cockpit area, even when hatches, windows, portholes and doors are closed.
Other symptoms of CO poisoning include dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
What can you do to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning?
- Never leave the engine running when the boat is stopped.
- Make sure an adult is watching when anyone is swimming or playing in the water near the boat.
- Schedule annual engine and exhaust system maintenance inspections.
- Keep forward-facing hatchets open on boats with cabins to allow fresh air to circulate.
- Install a CO detector in each interior space.