Carbon Monoxide: A Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide, sometimes called a "silent killer," is a hazard that all boaters should be aware of. It is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that can overcome an individual in a matter of seconds. Produced when a carbon-based fuel such as gasoline or propane is burned, carbon monoxide comes from the gasoline engine on your boat. In high levels of concentration, even a few breaths can be enough to kill you.
Carbon monoxide can easily accumulate inside or outside your boat whether you're underway, moored, or anchored. It can build up in inadequately ventilated canvas enclosures, in exhaust gas trapped in enclosed places, and in blocked exhaust outlets. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can also collect at slow speeds, while idling or stopped, even if your motor is no longer running. Keep in mind that exhaust emissions coming from another boat while you are docked or anchored can contain enough carbon monoxide to make you and your family sick.
The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are easily overlooked because they often resemble those of seasickness, intoxication, or other common illnesses. Symptoms can include irritated eyes, inattentiveness or lack of concentration, inability to think coherently, ringing in the ears, tightness across the chest, headache, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, collapse, and convulsions. If you suspect that someone is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, move them to fresh air immediately and seek medical help. If the person is not breathing, perform CPR until medical help arrives.
Tow boat drivers need to be especially aware of the carbon monoxide exposure risks related to "wake surfing" and "teak surfing." "Teak surfing" involves hanging onto a swim platform while the boat is in motion. "Wake surfing" involves riding a board in close proximity to the transom or swim platform of a boat. Both are extremely dangerous activities that should not be permitted on your boat or anyone else's boat! People who "teak surf" or "wake surf" too close to the boat are directly exposed to high concentrations of deadly carbon monoxide fumes in the engine's exhaust, which can kill or incapacitate someone after just a few breaths. In addition, these people are very close to the spinning propeller underneath the boat, which can kill or seriously injure them if they slip or get pulled beneath the swim platform. The US Coast Guard recommends to remain more than 20 feet behind a moving or running watercraft in any towing water sport activity. Since "teak surfing" is done without a life jacket, participants are also in increased danger of drowning. Never allow anyone to "teak surf" on your boat, "wake surf" within 20 feet of the back, or to sit on the back deck while the engine is running!
Please pay close attention to the carbon monoxide hazard associated with motor boating. Keep you and your passengers' safety in mind at all times. Remember, boating safety and enjoyment go hand in hand you can't have one without the other.