Deadly Gas on The Water

Deadly Gas on The Water.  Fun on the water looks different for everyone, from fishing and swimming to boating and water sports.  As fun as these activities may be, one very real risk, unknown to many, could turn these into deadly activities.

What Deadly Gas?
We’re talking about carbon monoxide poisoning, or CO for short.  This is a gas that is formed when fuel is burned.  The most common source of CO on a boat is from a running engine or a boat’s generator.  CO is a tasteless, odorless, and invisible gas that can affect those both in and out of the boat.  It is a gas that prevents your body from absorbing oxygen but does not affect your breathing, which is why it can go undetected.


Where is This Deadly Gas?
Most boats have engines and generators that vent toward the rear of their boat.  People near the rear swim deck or water platform are most at risk if the CO builds up beneath the stern deck or on and around it.  But just as deadly, exhaust from idling boats can seep into other boats and onto the water surrounding nearby boats.  

Symptoms to look for:
Many times the symptoms from CO poisoning are overlooked because people often assume they drank too much, they have seasickness, or they just spent too much time in the sun.  Symptoms of CO poisoning could be nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness, loss of consciousness, confusion, or even seizures.  Even exposure to small quantities of CO over a long period of time can be just as deadly as a brief exposure to large concentrations of CO.  If you suspect a person to have CO poisoning, move them to fresh air right away and seek medical help immediately.  Open windows, hatches, or ports to ventilate.

CO Poisoning Prevention:

  • Watch children closely when they are on the rear swim deck or platform.  Don’t sit on, swim under, or surf from the swim platform while the engine is running.  
  • Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust. 
  • Maintain a distance of at least 20 feet from other boats that are running a generator or engine.
  • Avoid idling the engine while the boat is stationary or while rafted to another boat.
  • Stay away from exhaust outlets while the boat or generator is running.

Knowledge is power: 
Educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning.  Install and maintain a CO detector on board and check it periodically, especially if you have a generator on board.  Also, regularly have your engine and exhaust system inspected for signs of leaks and wear and tear.  Lastly, make a point to check that exhaust vents are free from any blockage

All CO poisonings are preventable and being proactive is the best way to stay safe.
For more information: 
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 1-800-648-6942 

Boat U.S. Foundation 

U.S. Coast Guard 

by Jennifer Sanchez, Hurley Marine