November 2010

Clearing the air

Use your portable generator safely

In late November, my wife, Lisa, and I docked on the Chester River off the Chesapeake on our way south to the Florida Keys. With no power at the dock and nighttime temperatures in the 20s, we used our portable 6.5-kilowatt generator to stay warm.

The generator sat outside the cabin on the aft deck of our sportfishing boat. Drain scuppers in the cockpit would vent any gases accumulating there.

I didn’t count on the strong winds from astern blowing exhaust up against the aft sliding cabin doors. Although closed, the doors aren’t airtight, and odorless carbon monoxide was being forced inside.

Lisa awoke during the night feeling bad. She passed out, fell and hit her head. I got her back into bed and opened the hatches to let in the frigid night air.

Later, I got up and promptly passed out. When I came to, it was Lisa’s turn to help me—she was closest to the open hatch and more alert. My brain was barely working, but she had me shut down the generator.

We spent the rest of the night freezing under a sleeping bag—but we were alive! Although sick until noon the next day, we made a full recovery.

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Run your genny safely

  • Maintain your generator meticulously. It can leak carbon monoxide without your knowing it.
  • Run your exhaust blower while your generator is in use. You may not want to run your generator while you are sleeping.
  • Remember that CO from nearby boats can easily drift into your vessel, especially if your hatches or portholes are open.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector with both visible and audible alarms.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning, move the victim to fresh air, away from the source of exposure. Symptoms include nausea, weakness, dizziness, headache, watery eyes, ringing in the ears, and red skin. Seek medical help immediately.

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