CO Poisoning: Symptoms, Protection and Tips
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced when a carbon-based fuel burns. CO can make you sick in seconds. In high enough concentrations, even a few breaths can be fatal. Sources of CO on your boat may include gasoline engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and heaters.
Natural air flows can suck fumes forward onto the vessel.
Early Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Early symptoms of CO poisoning include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. They often are confused with seasickness or intoxication. Move anyone with these symptoms to fresh air immediately. Seek medical attention—unless you're sure it's not CO.
Protect Yourself Against CO Poisoning While Boating
To protect yourself and others against CO poisoning while boating:
- Allow fresh air to circulate throughout the boat at all times, even during bad weather.
- Know where your engine and generator exhaust outlets are located and keep everyone away from these areas.
- Never sit on the back deck, "teak surf," or hang on the swim platform while the engines are running.
- Never enter areas under swim platforms where exhaust outlets are located—even for a second. One or two breaths in this area could be fatal.
- Ventilate immediately if exhaust fumes are detected on the boat.
- Install and maintain CO detectors inside your boat. Replace detectors as recommended by the manufacturer.
Swimmers should never enter an enclosed area under the swim platform—even for a second. One or two breaths of the air in this area could be fatal.
Before Each Boating Trip
Before each boating trip, you should:
- Make sure you know where the exhaust outlets are located on your boat.
- Educate all passengers about the symptoms of CO poisoning and where CO may accumulate.
- Confirm that water flows from the exhaust outlet when the engines and generator are started.
- Listen for any change in exhaust sound, which could indicate an exhaust component failure.
- Test the operation of each CO detector by pressing the test button.
Check Your Boat Regularly
At least monthly, you should:
- Make sure all exhaust clamps are in place and secure.
- Look for leaks from exhaust system components. Signs include rust and/or black streaking, water leaks, or corroded or cracked fittings.
- Inspect rubber exhaust hoses for burns, cracks, or deterioration.
At least annually, have a qualified marine technician check the engine and exhaust system.