SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is home to some of the most beautiful waterbodies around. Every year countless recreators visit these waters to fish, boat, water ski and relax with their friends and family. Unfortunately, many water recreators are unaware of a silent killer putting them and their family at danger aboard their boat.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and tasteless gas that can deplete your oxygen to the point of death. The gas enters the bloodstream through the lungs and displaces the oxygen your body needs to breathe.
So what does carbon monoxide poisoning have to do with boating? Carbon monoxide is produced from the burnt emissions of a fuel ignited motor and is emitted from the exhaust ports of the motorized engine of a boat.
Utah has experienced two carbon monoxide incidents within the last two weeks, both of them involving children. Thankfully, both of these children are expected to fully recover.
Carbon monoxide can build up in boats from the following:
- Back drafting. It can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin, cockpit and bridge when a boat is operated at a high bow angle, is improperly or heavily loaded or has an opening that draws in the exhaust.
- Traveling at slow speeds or idling. Slow speeds or idling can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge and aft deck, or in an open area. Wind from the aft section of the boat can increase this buildup of carbon monoxide.
- Generators. On large houseboats, generators oftentimes vent to the rear of the boat where there is a swim deck or water platform. Carbon monoxide that builds up in the air space beneath the stern deck or on and near the swim deck can kill someone in seconds.
- Other vessels. Exhaust from another vessel that is docked, beached or anchored alongside your boat can emit carbon monoxide into the cabin and cockpit of your boat. Even with properly vented exhaust, your boat should be a minimum of 20 feet from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine.
- Blockage of exhaust outlets. Blockage can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the cabin and cockpit area – even when hatches, windows, portholes and doors are closed.
Early symptoms of poisoning include headache and nausea. If a passenger is experiencing these symptoms, immediately move the person to fresh air, investigate the cause and take corrective action. Don’t confuse these symptoms with seasickness, heat stress or intoxication. Seek medical attention, if necessary.
Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. These include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
What you can do
It is important that the boat operator, as well as others on board, educate themselves about carbon monoxide poisoning, including the boat’s danger zones and early symptoms of poisoning.
- If your boat stops in the water, never leave the engine running.
- Make sure an adult is watching when anyone is swimming or playing in the water near the boat, even when the engine is off. Deadly fumes may have accumulated.
- Schedule annual engine and exhaust system maintenance inspections by trained technicians.
- Keep forward-facing hatches open on boats with cabins or enclosed areas even when the boat is moving to allow fresh air to circulate.
- If anyone on board complains of any carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, move them to fresh air, investigate the cause and seek medical attention.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector in each interior space where people might be. Check them before each trip to make sure they are working properly.
In order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the State of Utah Administrative Code requires a boat operator to never operate or idle a boat’s engine when someone is on or holding onto the boat’s swim platform, deck, steps or ladder, or when someone is being towed in a nonstanding position within 20 feet of the boat.
These rules do not apply if you are assisting with the docking or departure of the boat, exiting or entering the boat, or if the boat is involved in law enforcement activities.
To learn more about boating safety visit the official Utah State Park Boating Program website.
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