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Safe at Sea: Carbon monoxide poisoning, aka the ‘silent killer’

By Staff | Jul 25, 2018

When people hear of carbon monoxide poisoning, they most often think, “Didn’t those people have a detector in their house?” If they are smart, they will immediately check their own detector to be sure it is functioning correctly.

Many people do not realize that carbon monoxide poisoning causes a surprising number of boating fatalities. Because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless, it has earned the nickname the “silent killer.”

Unfortunately, the early symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning are quite similar to seasickness: nausea, dizziness, weakness and headaches. Unlike seasickness, the symptoms worsen and eventually present a red discoloration of skin, drowsiness, eventually unconsciousness and finally death.

Larger boats, in particular, are at a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning due to the extensive equipment on board. In addition to the boat’s engine(s), it can be equipped with cabin heaters, generators, stoves, et cetera, which all produce carbon monoxide. The most common source of carbon monoxide is exhaust from engines and generators. What boaters must remember is that carbon monoxide fumes are able to accumulate in areas away from the exhaust source.

Some tips to help boaters prevent carbon monoxide poisoning include:

– Regularly check for leaks in the engine and the generator exhaust systems. Likewise, check the seals around hatches and portholes.

– Check the ventilation of any stove.

– Meticulously maintain any generators.

– When running a generator, run the exhaust blowers. As an extra precaution, do so even when a breeze is present.

The deadliest time of day for carbon monoxide poisoning is at night when a boat is docked or moored, but when a generator is running. Do not run a generator overnight when stopped.

Two additional precautions deal with other boats in the area:

– Do not tow anyone behind a boat while it is underway.

– Beware of other boats in the vicinity when their engines and/or generators are running.

The No. 1 precaution is to install carbon monoxide alarms in the cockpit, cabin and sleeping areas.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.