Many of us are aware of the danger posed by carbon monoxide (CO) accumulation in enclosed spaces and take steps to ensure adequate ventilation, particularly in the winter months when using heaters and other fuel burning devices. But it is important to remember this is not a problem which is exclusive to enclosed spaces and it can be a real hazard, even in open cockpits if stationary or moving at slow speed.
This Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week (21-27 November) make sure you know the danger signs and the necessary precautions to avoid a carbon monoxide incident whatever the time of year.
There have been a number Carbon Monoxide poisonings resulting in fatalities in recent years. However, there is now evidence that the Carbon Monoxide poisoning is not only limited to enclosed spaces where it may accumulate without adequate ventilation.
People sitting at the stern just forward of the transom on open power boats operating at low speed may equally be at risk from something that is know as the “station wagon” effect. This is a phenomenon in which emissions from a boat’s exhaust accumulate behind the boat or travel back into the boat due to pressure differential, usually when the boat is underway.
Open air CO fatalities have been reported in the US; one involved a fatality of an individual who was sunbathing on an air bed tied to the stern of a motor cruiser who was overcome by Carbon Monoxide from a generator exhaust nearby. So be aware and take care!
Carbon Monoxide is colourless and odourless. When breathed in, it mixes in the bloodstream and prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to the brain, body tissues, and organs and can cause them to fail and die. The first signs can be headaches, dizziness, tiredness and sickness.
If you smell gas or think there might be a gas leak, call the free 24-hour national gas emergency number immediately on 0800 111 999.
For more information on Carbon Monoxide and how to avoid a carbon monoxide related incident, take a look at the RYA Safety hub.
We also recommend you read the boat safety scheme's advice on Carbon Monoxide alarms for boats.