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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can be toxic in even small quantities. This dangerous gas is produced by engines, generators, barbeque grills and other equipment commonly used by boaters. Every year, people who play on and around boats are overcome by the effects of carbon monoxide.

As you breathe carbon monoxide, it enters your bloodstream through your lungs and blocks the oxygen. You can be poisoned if you are exposed to low concentrations over an extended period of time, or if you are very quickly exposed to high concentrations.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death.


The best way to treat carbon monoxide poisoning is to be sure it never happens to begin with, and the best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to keep air flowing through the vessel. To prevent anyone on your boat from being exposed to carbon monoxide, perform the following safety measures:

  • Have regular professional boat inspections.
  • Install and maintain marine-rated carbon monoxide detectors in cabins and living spaces. Remember, carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, and may easily collect in closed areas without you being aware. Above all, never place complete trust in CO detectors— check for yourself to be sure!
  • Turn on the exhaust blowers if you smell exhaust fumes.
  • Don't allow "teak surfing," which is sitting or hanging onto the swim platform on the back of a boat as the boat moves through the water. Not only would you be dangerously close to the propeller of the boat, but you would also be breathing in the carbon monoxide fumes from the engine.
  • Check for exhaust leaks from carbon monoxide sources, such as engines, generators, grills and propane appliances.
  • Run the exhaust blowers whenever the generator (if you have one) is operating.
  • Don't let anyone sit near the exhaust outlets.
  • Check your boat for design features that might trap carbon monoxide.
  • Do not swim near the stern of the vessel while generators, engines or other equipment that produce carbon monoxide are operating.
  • Treat symptoms of seasickness as possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Get the person into fresh air immediately.

Carbon monoxide can remain in or around your boat at dangerous levels even if the engine is no longer running.


Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Irritated eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain

Unfortunately, some of these symptoms are the same for seasickness and intoxication. Even if you think the person is seasick or drunk, treat them as if they had carbon monoxide poisoning.

Emergency Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Move the person to fresh air.
  • Tell everyone else in that area to leave the area, and turn on all ventilation systems.
  • Watch the victim.
  • Administer oxygen, if available.

If the victim is not breathing, contact medical help and perform rescue breathing or CPR until medical help arrives.

If you are watching the victim, tell someone else to:

  • Shut off all potential sources of carbon monoxide, if possible.
  • Correct any ventilation problems.

If the victim does not improve, he/she will need to be taken to the hospital emergency room where he/she will be given oxygen and tests will be conducted to determine if carbon monoxide is the cause of the illness.


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