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VOL. 12 NO. 5
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The dangers of CO

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

The dangers of CO

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes a startling number of boating fatalities. Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that effectively blocks oxygen delivery to the body.

Boat engines, cabin heaters, generators and galley stoves produce carbon monoxide. In the absence of a breeze, CO levels can cause unconsciousness in minutes. It’s often impossible to detect CO before it overcomes a victim, who is then too weak to escape or summon help.

The most prevalent source of CO is exhaust from engines and generators. CO fumes can also accumulate in areas away from the exhaust source.

Early symptoms
The symptoms of mild CO poisoning are nearly the same as seasickness, colds and flu:

  • Nausea, weakness, dizziness and headache
  • Ringing in the ears and watering of eyes
  • Often a cherry-red coloring to the skin

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause

  • Lightheadedness or headache with minimal amount
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness at moderate levels
  • Death

Severe poisoning can result in brain or heart damage or death.

Prevent CO buildup by regularly checking for leaks at your engine and generator exhaust systems and the seals around your hatches and portholes.

  • Check the ventilation of your alcohol stove.
  • Maintain your generators meticulously. CO can leak from them without your knowing it.
  • Run your exhaust blowers while using generators.
  • Ensure a free flow of air from front to back on a moving boat; avoid the station wagon effect.
  • When running, keep passengers clear of the platform over engines or generators exhaust unless there is a strong flow of air.
  • Be cautious running engines or generators when anchored, moored, or docked unless there’s a substantial breeze; do not run generators overnight when stopped.
  • Don’t allow anyone in the water to approach within 10 to 20 feet of the engines or generator exhaust.
  • Don’t tow anyone close behind the boat while underway.
  • Check venting of stoves and other fuel burning devices for leaks; keep the venting clear.
  • Beware of other boats in the vicinity with engines or generators running; stay clear or move. 

You should also install CO alarms in the cockpit, cabin and sleeping areas.

To learn more, take one of our safe boating seminars.
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