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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on your Boat

Gasoline-powered engines on boats, including onboard generators, produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes too much of it.

How Carbon Monoxide Can Build Up In a Boat

Larger boats, such as houseboats, sometimes have generators that vent toward the rear of the boat. This venting poses a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning to people on the rear swim deck or water platform. On larger boats carbon monoxide builds up above the water near the water platform. Carbon monoxide that builds up in the air space beneath the stern deck or on and near the swim deck can kill someone in seconds.

Traveling at slow speeds or idling in the water can cause carbon monoxide 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 carbon monoxide.

Back drafting can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin, cockpit, and bridge when a boat is operated at a high bow angle, is improperly or heavily loaded, or has an opening that draws in exhaust.

Back drafting can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin, cockpit, and bridge when a boat is operated at a high bow angle, is improperly or heavily loaded, or has an opening that draws in exhaust.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide inhalation can cause death. Carbon monoxide poisoning can also cause you to pass out and fall into the water and drown. A person who is sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever having symptoms.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on Boats

Install and maintain a working carbon monoxide detector inside the boat to alert people when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide have built up inside the boat cabin.

  • Properly install and maintain all fuel-burning engines and appliances.
  • Educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust.
  • Watch children closely when they play on rear swim decks or water platforms.
  • Never block exhaust outlets. Blocking outlets can cause carbon monoxide to build up in the cabin and cockpit areas–even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed.
  • Dock, beach, or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. Exhaust from a nearby vessel can send carbon monoxide into the cabin and cockpit of a boat.

Source: Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention

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