By Dick Werner
Wait! Before you say, “Oh yeah, I learned all about that stuff back in grade school—don’t bore me with superfluous information,” give me a couple minutes of your time before you go on to the next article. It could save yours or someone else’s life. I’ll be short and to the point. This odorless, colorless, tasteless gas can accumulate anywhere in or around your boat. It is produced when a carbon-based fuel such as gasoline, oil or even charcoal burns. Sources on your boat can include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, or space and water heaters. Once you have inhaled carbon monoxide (CO), it enters your bloodstream through your lungs, preventing hemoglobin from taking up oxygen thereby depriving your body tissues of the oxygen they need. In high concentrations even a few breaths can be fatal. Lesser amounts of exposure over a period of time will produce symptoms of irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. Unfortunately, these symptoms are very similar to seasickness. Do not take a chance. If a person on board your boat exhibits these symptoms assume it maybe CO poisoning and get them into fresh air immediately. If the victim is not breathing, perform rescue respiration on them or CPR if necessary until medical help arrive. Prompt action can mean the difference between life and death. Where can CO accumulate? Actually it can accumulate both in and around your boat. Of course the prime areas of concentration will be around the areas of exhaust outlets. One of the more dangerous times for CO poisonings is while cruisers or houseboats are docked or rafted with another boat. Often the generator is left running to power the air conditioning, entertainment center, etc. With the exhaust port frequently located under the swim platform, the accumulation of this deadly gas can be very high in and around the platform and rear deck spaces. In addition to your own boat, you need to be aware of exhaust emissions from the boat immediately next to yours. It goes without saying that you need to routinely check to make sure your exhaust tube clamps are in place and secure and that you do not have any leaks from cracked fittings, exhaust tubes, manifolds or elbows. For enclosed boats such as cruisers and houseboats, installing CO alarms in appropriate places is a must. They are inexpensive and available at most marine supply houses. Bear with me for one more CO problem that seems so foolish that I cannot believe that people do this… “Teak surfing”. Apparently it’s a big thing amongst the younger set in some areas of our country. It is such a problem in California that their marine board is requiring boat owners to place a decal similar to the one shown below, on the stern or transom of their boat. This, so called, form of entertainment requires the individual to hold onto the swim platform while the boat is underway. When enough wake has built up, they let go and body surf the wave created by the boat, hence the term “teak surfing”. Sounds pretty crazy because if the carbon monoxide doesn’t kill you the prop probably will. On top of that, to properly surf they say you should not wear a life jacket. Talk about insanity—but kids do it. Speaking of life jackets, keep them within reach of everyone on board. Set an example and wear one yourself. Don’t forget that inflatable life vests are light, comfortable and they could save your life. Have a fun, safe boating summer and be aware of this very dangerous gas that potentially can have a presence in and around our boats.