Boating is a popular summer pastime. Few activities can be as relaxing and awe-inspiring as a day spent on the water.

Safety is an essential component of responsible boating. Veteran boaters know that the work is never done in regard to ensuring their vessels are safe for everyone on board. One potentially harmful component boaters must be aware of is carbon monoxide, often referred to as “CO.” Understanding CO and the threat it poses can help boaters and their passengers stay safe this summer.

Understanding CO
When carbon-based fuels burn, they produce CO. Gasoline, oil, and propane are common examples of carbon-based fuels. CO also can be a byproduct of gas-powered generators, cooking ranges, and water heaters.

CO buildup
Large boats, including houseboats, sometimes have generators that vent toward the boat’s rear. This venting makes people on the boat’s rear swim deck or water platform vulnerable to CO poisoning. Travelling at slow speeds and idling can lead to a buildup of CO in the cabin, a build-up that can increase due to wind coming from the boat’s aft section.

Poorly ventilated canvas enclosures, enclosed spaces, which can trap CO, and blocked exhaust outlets are additional ways that CO can accumulate on a boat.

The signs of CO poisoning
CO can poison or even kill people who breathe in too much of it. As a result, boaters and people who plan to spend time on a boat must learn to recognize the signs of CO poisoning.

• Headache
• Dizziness
• Weakness
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Chest pain
• Confusion

When on a boat, it’s important that people do not write any of these symptoms off as seasickness.

Maintaining a boat
Symptoms of CO poisoning may not be evident, so appropriate measures must be taken to ensure boats are always in proper working order. When purchasing a CO detector for your boat, make sure to buy one that is appropriate for marine use inside the boat.

The following are some additional measures boaters can take to maintain their boats and reduce their risk, and their passengers’ risks, for CO poisoning:

• Properly install and maintain all fuel-burning engines and appliances.

• Educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning.

• Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust.

• Watch children closely when they play on rear swim decks or water platforms.

• Never block exhaust outlets, as blocking outlets can cause CO to build up in the cabin and cockpit areas even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed.

• Dock, beach, or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. This is important because the exhaust from nearby vessels can send CO into the cabin and cockpit of a boat.