You can't see carbon monoxide

If you could see carbon monoxide, it might look like this.

Where Carbon Monoxide Accumulates

Carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere in or around your boat.


Inadequately ventilated canvas enclosures.


Exhaust gas trapped in enclosed places.


Blocked exhaust outlets.


Another vessel's exhaust. CO from the boat docked next to you can be just as deadly.


"Station wagon effect" or back drafting.


At slow speeds, while idling, or stopped. Be aware that CO can remain in or around your boat at dangerous levels even if your engine or the other boat's engine is no longer running!


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What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. It is produced when a carbon-based fuel-such as gasoline, propane, charcoal, or oil-burns. Sources on your boat may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters.


Why is it so dangerous?

Carbon monoxide (CO) enters your bloodstream through the lungs, blocking the oxygen your body needs. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations or very quick exposure to high concentrations can kill you.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. They are often confused with seasickness or intoxication, so those affected may not receive the medical attention they need. Altitude, certain health-related problems, and age will increase the effects of CO. Persons who smoke or are exposed to high concentrations of cigarette smoke, consume alcohol, or have lung disorders or heart problems are particularly susceptible to an increase in the effects from CO. However, anyone can be affected. Another factor to consider is that physical exertion accelerates the rate at which the blood absorbs CO.


Emergency Treatment for CO Poisoning

CO poisoning or toxicity is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate action. The following is a list of things that should be done if CO poisoning is suspected. Proceed with caution. The victim may be in an area of high CO concentration, which means you or others could in danger from exposure to CO.

  • Evaluate the situation and ventilate the area if possible.
  • Evacuate the area and move affected person(s) to a fresh air environment.
  • Observe the victim(s).
  • Administer oxygen, if available.
  • Contact medical help. If the victim is not breathing, perform rescue breathing or approved cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as appropriate, until medical help arrives. Prompt action can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Shut off potential sources of CO, if possible. Correct ventilation problems and/or repair exhaust problems as appropriate. Investigate the source of CO and take corrective action, such as evacuating and ventilating the area or shutting off the source of the CO, while at the same time evacuating and ventilating the area.


How to Protect Yourself

  • Know where and how CO may accumulate in and around your boat.
  • Maintain fresh air circulation throughout the boat at all times. Run exhaust blowers whenever the generator is operating.
  • Know where your engine and generator exhaust outlets are located and keep everyone away from these areas.
  • Never sit, teak surf, or hang on the back deck or swim platform while the engines are running. Teak surfing is NEVER a safe activity.
  • Never enter areas under swim platforms where exhaust outlets are located unless the area has been properly ventilated.
  • Although CO can be present without the smell of exhaust fumes, if you smell exhaust fumes, CO is also present. Take immediate action to dissipate these fumes.
  • Treat symptoms of seasickness as possible CO poisoning. Get the person into fresh air immediately. Seek medical attention-unless you're sure it's not CO.
  • Install and maintain CO alarms inside your boat. Do not ignore any alarm. Replace alarms as recommended by the alarm manufacturer.
  • Get a Vessel Safety Check. A VSC is a free bow-to-stern safety examination.