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    STOP Carbon Monoxide Water-Related Deaths

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    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    Sadly, every year people are injured or killed from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning either on or near boats. If you or someone you know enjoys going boating or playing in the water around boats, these are things you should know in order to stop any further injuries or deaths from this silent killer. The first thing to know is CO is created by gasoline-powered engines, including onboard generators. It’s a colorless, odorless, gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes too much of it. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, if you can smell exhaust, then CO is present.

    At a lake near me, a 5-year old sitting in the back of a rental pontoon boat became overcome by CO. Fortunately, her aunt was on board and she was a nurse. The aunt recognized what was happening when the girl’s eyes rolled back in her head and she began to pass out. They were able to get the little girl to fresh air immediately and get emergency help for her and she recovered.

    The symptoms of someone suffering from CO poisoning are very similar, and often confused with, seasickness or alcohol intoxication. They include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, seizures, chest pain, confusion, and loss of consciousness. However, you’re more likely to be able to identify these symptoms when the victim is on the boat and not in the water.

    When you’re playing in the water around boats, especially if it’s a calm day without any wind blowing, CO can sit on top of the water’s surface. This puts people in the water around boats at greater risk because their mouth is typically at the same level that CO sits on top of the water. In high enough concentrations of CO, only a few breaths can cause someone to pass out, and if they’re in the water, and not wearing a properly-fitted life jacket, they drown quickly and silently. Besides wearing a properly-fitted life jacket when playing in the water around boats, these are some other things that you need to know about CO poisoning when boating.

    Properly maintaining gasoline-powered engines and generators are critical to preventing CO poisoning. Exhaust leaks are the leading cause of death by CO. An improperly-tuned engine is more likely to produce elevated levels of CO and this is more common on older boats. Replace exhaust hoses if any evidence of cracking, charring, or deterioration is found. Make sure all exhaust clamps are in place and secure. Schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance inspections by experienced and trained technicians.

    It’s popular on lakes and rivers to raft boats together and you don’t know if others have properly maintained their engines or exhaust systems. Plus, when several boats are tied together or docked with generators or engines running, sometimes ventilation louvers and exhaust outlets may become blocked. That can cause CO to accumulate in the cabin or cockpit of larger boats and on the water’s surface nearby. This can even happen within 20 feet of other boats.

    Operating a boat in a way that creates fresh air circulation at all times is the best preventative. Traveling at slow speeds or idling in the water can cause CO to build up on board and on the water’s surface nearby. Wind coming from the aft or rear of a boat can increase the buildup of CO on board. When possible, run the boat so that prevailing winds will help dissipate exhaust. If you’re driving at a high-bow angle, which can be caused by overloading or improperly-loading your boat, it can draw exhaust fumes back towards your boat. This circular airflow pattern of exhaust back towards your boat is referred to as the station wagon or back-draft effect. It can happen on any boat, but back drafting is more common on larger vessels.

    Teak surfing or dragging someone behind any slow moving boat rear deck, or sitting on the swim platform when a boat is running, puts people in a deadly position of being directly in the path of exhaust fumes, and potentially at risk of CO poisoning.

    On larger boats, it’s a good idea to keep forward-facing hatches open, even in inclement weather, to allow fresh air circulation in living spaces. Also, houseboats sometimes have generators that vent toward the rear of the boat. Improper venting can pose a danger of CO poisoning to people on the rear swim deck or water platform and in the water around the boat. If your boat has rear-vented generator exhaust, check with the boat manufacturer for possible recall or reroute the exhaust to a safe area.

    When temperatures are cooler, boat generators are used more often. That typically leads to more CO poisoning deaths. Install and maintain a working CO detector in each accommodation space on your boat and make sure the detector is listed by Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) as appropriate for marine use inside the boat. Check detectors before each trip to be sure they are functioning properly. If the detector goes off, believe it, and get to fresh air immediately.

    Most importantly, educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning so nobody confuses seasickness or intoxication with it. Make sure everyone is aware of areas where CO can accumulate, such as on the water’s surface, in inadequately ventilated areas, and engine compartments. Assign an adult to watch when anyone is swimming or playing in the water around your boat and make sure everyone is wearing a properly-fitted life jacket.

    For more information regarding CO and boating visit and the information is under “Tools” or it can be found at this link.

    You can help STOP further carbon monoxide water-related deaths and injuries on our nation’s water by sharing this information with those you know who enjoy boating and playing in the water around boats. Together we can and are saving lives on our nation’s waterways!



    Date Taken: 01.22.2021
    Date Posted: 01.22.2021 16:51
    Story ID: 387425
    Location: US

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