Carbon Monoxide Poisoning While Boating – A Silent Hazard

Robert Mandell discusses carbon monoxide poisoning while boating.

California’s 3,000 miles of ocean shoreline and almost 8,000 square miles of inland water make boating a popular activity in our state, particularly during this time of year. Summer brings out the boating enthusiasts in huge numbers. Each year, however, people are injured or killed from carbon monoxide poisoning while boating, usually caused by gasoline-powered engines on boats ⎯ including onboard generators ⎯ and from faulty systems within the occupant compartment.

Carbon monoxide (CO) ⎯ also known as a “silent killer” ⎯ is a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes too much of it. Annually, nearly 50,000 people are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 430 people die from accidental non-fire related CO poisoning. In fact, unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of poisoning in the US.

Elevated Carbon Monoxide Levels Can Be Found In Many Situations

On boats, people are affected by CO poisoning while performing boat maintenance, setting fishing lines or swimming on the back of the boat while the engine was running. CO can reach dangerous levels in a number of ways ⎯

  • On larger boats, rear venting, on-board generators endanger people on the rear swim deck or water platform.
  • CO can build up above the water near the water platform, presenting a danger to those breathing the air beneath the stern deck or on or near the swim deck.
  • Slow travel speeds or idling can cause CO to build up in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge, aft deck or even in an open area and can be exacerbated by wind from the aft section of the boat.
  • Certain boat speed and wind direction combinations can quickly raise CO concentrations to hazardous levels. Back drafting (where air moves around the boat and forms a low pressure area immediately behind the windshield), operating at a high bow angle, an improperly or heavily loaded boat or an opening that draws in exhaust can all cause a dangerous rise in CO levels.
  • “Teak surfers” or “drag surfers” are particularly susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. This activity involves clinging to the swim platform or transom of a moving boat, then letting go and body surfing. Exposure to engine exhaust can cause a surfer to faint and ⎯ since life jackets are generally not worn since they interfere with body surfing ⎯ drown. For these reasons ⎯ as well as the potential danger of propeller injuries ⎯ teak surfing is illegal in some states, including California.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO poisoning can also cause you to pass out and fall into the water and drown. High levels of CO inhalation can cause death. A sleeping or intoxicated person can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.

Safety Tips For Boaters

Carbon monoxide poisoning while boating is completely preventable. Boaters can protect against CO poisoning while enjoying the waters by observing the following safety measures ⎯

  • Install and maintain a working marine CO detector inside the boat to alert for dangerous levels of CO inside the boat cabin
  • Properly install and maintain all fuel-burning engines and appliances
  • Educate passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning
  • Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust
  • Watch children closely when playing on rear swim decks or water platforms
  • Never block exhaust outlets as this can cause CO build up in the cabin and cockpit areas
  • Stay at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat running a generator or engine, which can send CO from its exhaust into the cabin and cockpit of a nearby boat

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is Avoidable

Carbon monoxide on and around boats can be very dangerous, but accidents are avoidable. Unfortunately, most CO exposure is the result of a defective product or another person’s negligence. Those injured by carbon monoxide poisoning while boating have the right to hold the responsible party accountable. A consultation with a personal injury attorney will help determine who is responsible and help you get compensation for your injuries.

For Additional Information

Call Robert Mandell For a Free Evaluation of Your Case

Robert Mandell is a personal injury and wrongful death attorney, and lead litigator at The Mandell Law Firm in Woodland Hills. He is experienced and knowledgeable in all areas of personal injury law, including boating accidents and negligence. Call him for a free evaluation of your claim. It’s important to work with a personal injury attorney who has demonstrated a determination to fight for his clients. Robert Mandell and the team at Mandell Law will fight to protect your rights. To arrange a free consultation, contact Robert Mandell at The Mandell Law Firm in Woodland Hills. 818.886.6600.

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