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VOL. 10 NO. 2
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The silent killer

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal

The silent killer

Carbon monoxide is a component of exhaust gases; if you can smell exhaust, CO is present. CO is also produced when propane, charcoal or oil is burned to power onboard appliances such as a stove, grill, hot water heater or generator. A gasoline engine emits 10,000 to 100,000 parts per million of CO whereas a diesel engine emits 1,000 ppm.

For healthy adults CO becomes toxic when it reaches a level higher than 35 ppm with continuous exposure over an eight-hour period. Medium CO exposure (between 200 ppm to 800 ppm) can cause dizziness, drowsiness and vomiting in as little as an hour. This level of exposure is deemed life-threatening after three hours. Extreme CO exposure (800 ppm and higher) can result in unconsciousness, brain damage and death in a few minutes. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines state that the maximum exposure over an eight-hour time period is 35 ppm.

Here’s what you can do to help prevent CO poisoning on your boat:

  • Identify all exhaust outlet locations and ensure that they are not obstructed.
  • Confirm that water flows from the exhaust outlet when motors or generators are running.
  • Educate all passengers about the symptoms of CO poisoning and where CO may accumulate.
  • Test each CO detector for proper functioning by pressing the test button.
  • Open hatches or canvas enclosures if CO accumulation is suspected.
  • When rafted to another boat, ensure that both boats can ventilate exhaust away from themselves and each other.
  • Avoid swim platforms or swimming around or near a boat when the engine is running.
  • Periodically examine your boat’s exhaust fixtures to be certain of proper performance.
  • Maintain your boat’s engine and exhaust system to reduce the risk of CO buildup.

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