Houseboat carbon monoxide poisoning

Houseboat carbon monoxide poisoning: The invisible and potentially lethal danger of carbon monoxide on houseboats. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a danger when gasoline-powered engines are run in enclosed spaces. Severe carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur outdoors, specifically with houseboats.

From 1994 to 2004, there were more than 100 non-fatal carbon monoxide poisonings on houseboats in the US with at least 9 deaths. Studies indicate that houseboats with on-board electricity generators that vent toward the rear of the boat can pose a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning to people on the rear swim deck or water platform. Carbon monoxide poisonings have also occurred inside houseboats.

Gasoline-powered engines on houseboats, including the houseboat's onboard generator, produce carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes in too much of it. Carbon monoxide tends to build up above the water near the water platform. The amount of carbon monoxide that can build up in the air space beneath the stern deck on houseboats can be deadly within seconds to minutes and can also reach life-threatening concentrations on and near the swim deck.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death, or can cause someone to pass out and fall into the water and drown. Unless suspected, carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms seem like other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

If you think someone on a houseboat has carbon monoxide poisoning, move him or her to fresh air quickly AND contact the nearest emergency services.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning on a houseboat in the first place, do the following:

  • Install and maintain a working carbon monoxide detector inside the houseboat. (Remember, this won't alert people to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide at locations outside the houseboat cabin, such as the swim deck).
  • Make sure that all fuel-burning engines and appliances are properly installed, maintained, and operated.
  • Educate all passengers about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if the houseboat has a rear swim deck or water platform.
  • Watch children closely when they are playing on rear swim decks or water platforms for signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Swim and enjoy other activities away from areas where gasoline-powered engines vent their exhaust.

Carbon monoxide from exhaust pipes of inboard engines, outboard engines, and generators builds up inside and outside any boat in areas near the exhaust vents. From 1994 to 2004, 31 deaths were reported to the US Coast Guard involving all types of recreational boats. The Coast Guard reminds boaters to be aware of the following:

  • Blocking exhaust outlets can cause carbon monoxide to build up in the cabin and cockpit areas - even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed.
  • Exhaust from another vessel that is docked, beached, or anchored beside your boat can send carbon monoxide into the cabin and cockpit of your boat. Your boat should always be at least 20 feet from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine.
  • Slow speeds or idling in the water can cause carbon monoxide to build up in the cabin, cockpit, bridge, and aft deck, even in an open area. Wind entering from the aft section of the boat can also increase this build up of carbon monoxide.
  • The "station wagon effect" (back drafting) can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin, cockpit, and bridge when operating the boat at a high bow angle, with improper or heavy loading, or if there is an opening that draws in exhaust.
See also: Carbon monoxide poisoning.