We are getting closer to boating season, and I, for one, am getting excited. Spring is my favorite time of the year because I know that I have a whole season of boating ahead of me. In my opinion, one of the most enjoyable things to do on a boat is to spend the night out on the water. If you have not tried it, you should. Before you do, make sure you understand the dangers of carbon monoxide first.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a gas that is produced when carbon-based fuels such as gasoline and kerosene are burned. It has no odor, no taste, and can be very deadly. Since most of our boats have engines and maybe even generators, it is important to understand how to properly protect yourself from carbon monoxide when on the water. Failure to do so could result in you or your loved ones becoming a victim of this deadly gas. It happens more often than you think and has occurred on Lake Lanier on more than one occasion. According to the US Coast Guard, carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the top five causes of death among boaters. Usually, these accidents occur as a result of the operation of faulty equipment or because a choice was made to operate an onboard or portable generator on a vessel while sleeping.

So, how does CO poisoning happen? In many cases, it can occur when exhaust systems for engines or generators are improperly installed or maintained. Exhaust gases can leak into areas of the vessel where they are inhaled by the occupants, causing them to become ill or worse. Swimming around a vessel where the generator is running can also lead to similar effects. Most generator exhaust outlets are near the water level where swimmers tend to be. Often, poisoning occurs when running a boat’s engines or generator while tied to a dock or another boat. The exhaust gases reflect off the dock or neighboring vessel, forcing them up and over the side into the cockpits of the vessels.

Understanding how poisoning can happen is just the beginning of what you need to do to protect yourself. Here are some additional things that can save your life:

  1. Get a carbon monoxide detector. If your boat has a cabin, get a carbon monoxide detector for the cabin. You should be able to find a device that detects both smoke and carbon monoxide. Make sure you change the batteries at the recommended intervals and change the unit when recommended. They do not last forever.
  2. Have your vessel inspected and maintained properly. Remember, many causes of carbon monoxide poisoning are the result of faulty installation or lack of maintenance. Proper maintenance is important and if there are work or broken exhaust components, get them repaired.
  3. Don’t swim near vessels with running engines or generators.
  4. Don’t run engines or your generator in areas where the exhaust is blocked or deflected toward areas where people are gathered.
  5. Recognize symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Usually, symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and chest pain. If a person is experiencing any of these in an environment with carbon monoxide, get them to an area of fresh air immediately and contact emergency services.
  6. Don’t sleep at night on your vessel while the generator is running. If there is CO intrusion into your cabin, it can be deadly. This is the most common cause of death due to CO poisoning on boats.

Play it safe this year and make sure that you have many more years of boating to come.