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    Mitigating Carbon Monoxide (CO) Risks in the Boating Industry

    For anyone living or working on a boat, including maritime professionals and families who use boats for recreation or part-time or permanent living, being aware of the potential for carbon monoxide (CO) exposure and poisoning is an essential step in eliminating safety hazards and preventing potentially life-threatening accidents

    CO is one of the many chemicals found in engine exhaust, but its odorless and tasteless nature make it particularly troublesome, as the symptoms can easily overcome someone before they have an indication that there is a problem.
    In boating, CO is commonly produced by equipment such as propulsion or auxiliary engines, generators, space heaters, water heaters, and even cooking equipment including ranges and charcoal grills. However, there are specific situations in marine environments that can precipitate the dangerous build-up of CO.

    Man on boat with inspector

    Responsibilities and Challenges

    There are many carbon monoxide risks in boating, including many situations in which crew or passengers can be exposed to carbon monoxide (CO) while using a boat for work or leisure.

    Boat operators and crew must stay vigilant to CO accumulation, particularly when a boat is stationary. It is even more critical if the boat is moored in a confined space such as a boathouse or is rafted next to other boats or a seawall. CO can also accumulate when boats are moving at slow speeds and engaging in towing activities such as tubing, water skiing, wake surfing, or on-water towing. Certain commercial towing situations where boats are traveling at slow speeds can also cause CO buildup, even in vessels with open-center consoles.

    It’s important to note that CO exposure can also result from sources outside your vessel. For example, CO drift can occur when other boats are idling nearby, adversely affecting the in-cabin atmosphere.

    Additionally, equipment that is damaged or not properly maintained can also pose a serious risk.

    Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Boating Equipment

    The U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics for 2019 revealed 31 reported CO poisonings related to boating, including five deaths. By 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Coast Guard identified over 800 CO poisonings across 35 states related to boating, with more than 140 resulting in death. More than a third of the events occurred on houseboats and one-quarter of those were attributed to generator exhaust. Some likely sources of CO in and around boats include:

    • Propulsion engines
    • Improperly installed or maintained air conditioning units
    • Improper ventilation that allows CO buildup in occupied spaces
    • Inefficient engine performance due to altitude or sea conditions, dirty or clogged carburetors or injectors, malfunctioning automatic choke plates, poorly adjusted manual choke plates
    • An ignition system with fouled or worn spark plugs, worn points, shorted or opened circuit high tension spark plug cables, incorrect timing
    • Portable generators
    • Water and space heaters; cooking equipment including charcoal grills

    While these do not represent all the ways CO can be problematic onboard a boat, they do provide a closer look at the many ways CO can be problematic in the maritime environment.

    Inspector on center console boat

    Inspector on boat near water

    Protecting Crew and Passengers from Carbon Monoxide Exposure

    There are many things you can do to prevent accidents resulting from CO exposure in a maritime environment, including conducting thorough inspections as well as understanding how CO can build up on a boat. You should be particularly aware of:

    • Understanding where CO exhaust outlets are and that they are properly vented.
    • Avoid using read deck swimming platforms while engines are running or have been recently running.
    • Avoid teak surfing behind a vessel and waterski or waterboard at least 7 meters behind the vessel
    • Keep a 6-meter distance between your vessel and the nearest running vessel while idling or docked.
    • Avoid leaving your engine running.
    • Recognize signs of leaky exhaust systems, including rust, black streaking, water leakage, or fitting cracks.
    • Ensure your engine is properly tuned.

    The American Boat and Yacht Council and the U.S. Coast Guard, among others, recommend the installation and maintenance of marine carbon monoxide detection devices for early detection of potential CO issues.

    In addition, watercraft should be subject to strict routine maintenance and inspection protocols of all boat systems to reduce the possibility of unsafe levels of carbon monoxide infiltrating the vessel.

    Besides properly maintaining your boat and educating crew and passengers on proper boating safety, including strategies to minimize contact with CO, monitoring CO levels using a CO inspection and detection device is a sensible and noteworthy precaution.

    To learn more about the effects of CO poisoning, please review Understanding the Effects of Carbon Monoxide.

    Using Carbon Monoxide Meters to Detect and Monitor Carbon Monoxide Levels

    The Sensorcon Inspector is a trusted tool that can be used by boating professionals to detect and identify the source of carbon monoxide (CO) during boating and other marine activities.

    The Sensorcon CO Inspector is a portable and reliable carbon monoxide meter (CO meter) that was designed in the USA and assembled in our manufacturing facility located in Buffalo, NY.

    Our CO meter provides you with real-time readings all the way from 0 to 2000 PPM and is used by professionals to monitor or inspect for carbon monoxide.

    Already trusted and used by fire fighters, police, emergency medical services (EMS), home inspectors, plumbers, and HVAC technicians, the Sensorcon CO Inspector is a great tool for monitoring for and diagnosing the presence of CO in the marine environment.

    inspector clipped to a life jacket