Each year, boaters are injured or killed by carbon monoxide. Most occur on older boats, and within the cabin or other enclosed areas. Virtually all of the poisonings are preventable.
Carbon monoxide is a potentially deadly gas produced any time a carbon-based fuel, such as gasoline, propane, charcoal or oil burns. Sources on your boat include gasoline engines and generators, cooking ranges, space heaters and water heaters. Cold and poorly tuned engines produce more carbon monoxide than warm, properly tuned engines.
Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and mixes evenly with the air. It enters your blood stream through the lungs and displaces the oxygen your body needs. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning—irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness—are often confused with seasickness. Prolonged exposure can lead to death.
Carbon monoxide can collect within a boat in a variety of ways. Exhaust leaks, the leading cause of death by carbon monoxide, can allow carbon monoxide to migrate throughout the boat and into enclosed areas. Even properly vented exhaust can re-enter a boat if it’s moored too close to a dock or another boat, or if the exhaust is pushed back by prevailing winds. Exhaust can also re-enter boats when cruising under certain conditions—the station wagon effect—especially with canvas in place.
Regular maintenance and proper operation of the boat are the best defenses against injury from carbon monoxide.
(performed by a qualified mechanic)
Each year swimmers, boaters and people in marinas are injured or killed by electrical accidents. These occur because of wiring problems, component failures or the use of improper equipment when bringing 120 volt or 120.240 volt AC shorepower on board boats. Virtually all of these accidents are avoidable.
While AC electrical power is potentially deadly in any location, it is especially dangerous in and around the water. If there is a problem with the marina wiring, your boat’s wiring or its shorepower cord, contacting concrete or metal docks or the water itself can cause electrical shock. Handling shorepower cords when you are barefoot increases the chance of being electrocuted.
Electricity cannot be detected without the use of specialized test equipment. It may be present on metallic objects such as marina electrical equipment and shorepower connectors or even in the water itself. Contact with electrically energized equipment may result in painful shock, burns, muscle contraction or paralysis, loss of breathing and even stopping of the heart.
Electricity may be present in the water in places where boats are connected to shorepower or where marina wiring is defective. Electricity in the water will generally paralyze swimmers to the point where they lose muscle control, cannot swim and then drown. In a few cases the electrical “field” has been strong enough to cause electrocution from cardiac arrest. The possibility of either of these occurring is greater in fresh than in salt water.
When disconnecting from shorepower:
Once a year, have a qualified marina electrician perform the following:
To find out more information about how to avoid electrical shock hazards on recreational boats and how to make boating safer, contact:
1 Batterymarch Park
Quincy, MA 02169-7471
NFPA 70 (National Electrical Code);
Article 555 (Marinas and Boatyards)
NFPA 302 (Motorcraft)
NFPA 303 (Marinas and Boatyards)