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VOL. 8 NO. 5
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CO safety tips

Learn how to avoid this silent killer

CO safety tips

I joined my father and some of his buddies on a fishing trip out of Key Largo. The charter boat had a great open cockpit for fishing, but the diesel constantly spewed exhaust. We were at sea for several hours, and I developed a headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness.

At the time, I didn’t realize that I had carbon monoxide poisoning, whose symptoms can be confused with seasickness or intoxication. I spent the rest of the trip at the bow, trying to get fresh air until we made it back to port.

Prolonged exposure to low concentrations or short exposure to high concentrations of carbon monoxide can lead to death. Avoid these dangers:

  • Going slowly or idling can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the cabin, cockpit, bridge, aft deck and open areas. A tailwind can increase accumulation.
  • Swimming near or under the back deck or swim platform can expose you to lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

Exhaust from inboard engines, outboard engines and generators can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside and outside the boat near exhaust vents. Stay away from these areas, and don’t swim nearby when the motor or generator is operating.

On calm days, wait at least 15 minutes after shutting off the motor or generator before entering these areas. Never enter an area near a swim platform where exhaust is vented, not even for a second. Taking only one or two breaths of this air can be fatal.

Blocked exhaust outlets can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the cabin and cockpit area even when hatches, windows, portholes and doors are closed.

A vessel docked, beached or anchored alongside your boat can emit poisonous carbon monoxide into your boat’s cabin and cockpit. Your boat should be at least 20 feet from the nearest boat running a generator or engine.

The station wagon effect, or backdrafting, can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate inside the cabin, cockpit and bridge if your boat operates at a high bow angle, runs overloaded, has an opening that can draw in exhaust or runs with protective coverings installed.

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