Marine surveyor Tony Skeats talks through the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and how you can protect yourself and your crew

With carbon monoxide poisoning responsible for more than 50 deaths a year in England and Wales it’s important that protecting you and your crew from its harmful effects is taken seriously.

In recent years, several tragic incidents have been highlighted in the press where simple actions such as a installing a working carbon monoxide alarm, could have saved lives.

After giving a talk on the subject at an RYA cruising conference, MAIB engineer and ship surveyor Tony Skeats explains how the public has a low awareness of carbon monoxide and the potential dangers.

Inhaling carbon monoxide can be lethal, blocking the oxygen your body needs, with prolonged or very quick exposure to high concentrations causing severe illness or death.

“The symptoms of CO poisoning include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness. These symptoms are often confused with seasickness or too much drink and often people who experience it don’t receive medical attention”, warns Tony.

The main causes of carbon monoxide building up in a boat include, poor ventilation, exhaust gas from engines, heater outlets, inadequately ventilated or fitted gas powered equipment such as fridges or heaters, or the so called ‘station wagon effect’ where at slow speeds, the exhaust gas is back drafted over the boat.

“The best piece of advice I can give you is to get yourself a carbon monoxide alarm, preferably a marine one as they will last longer, but in any case a carbon monoxide alarm that conforms to the BS and EU standards”, adds Tony.

How to protect you and your crew

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm, test it regularly and ensure it always contains working batteries
  • Make sure your crew know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Keep your boat well ventilated
  • Keep your boat well maintained, not just the engine, but water pumps and cooling systems on “wet exhausts”
  • Have a gas safe engineer examine your gas systems and service them
  • Do not user cookers to heat your vessel
  • Be aware of other boats beside you, especially if they are running generators or heating systems as fumes can enter through innocent places such as sink outlets
  • Make sure you do not block any ventilation points
  • Be aware that if you can smell exhaust fumes you are being exposed to carbon monoxide
  • If you or your experience the symptoms listed above, get out on deck into fresh air. Seek medical attentions unless you’re sure it’s not carbon monoxide poisoning

Visit the Boat Safety Scheme for more information on carbon monoxide, as well as advice on correctly fitting and maintaining gas installations.