Earlier this year, three British seafarers lost their lives from suspected carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning on two separate boats and in 2013 two people passed away on a boat in the Lake District as a result of CO poisoning. This has led the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) to offer a world-wide warning to all boaters.
Don’t be a victim - RYA’s Safety Advisory Notice
The RYA’s Safety Advisory Notice 01/2014 highlights the importance of ensuring that any on board appliances or equipment that burn carbon based fuel are properly installed, in good working order and have adequate ventilation and that a CO alarm is fitted.
A man and his dog were found dead on board a narrow boat on the Oxford canal and two fishermen died on board the scallop-dredger Eshcol in Whitby harbour earlier this year.
The initial findings contained in the MAIB Safety Bulletin 1/2014 for the Eschcol explain how the grill of a butane gas cooker located in the wheelhouse was lit to heat the wheelhouse and sleeping area. The next morning the skipper and crewman were found dead in their bunks; the gas appliance was still lit and there were fumes in the wheelhouse. A carbon monoxide alarm was not fitted.
Be aware of the dangers
You cannot see feel, smell or taste CO but it is highly poisonous. CO poisoning is the most common type of fatal air poisoning in many countries which is why it is often called the silent killer.
CO in excessive quantities is produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. When CO enters the body, it replaces the oxygen in the bloodstream and prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to the heart, brain, body tissues and organs.
Any fuel burning device that is faulty, incorrectly set up and or flued, poorly ventilated or not properly maintained may generate CO. If such a device is on when boaters are sleeping, the often fatal poisoning will occur gradually during sleep with no warning or chance of waking.
Symptoms of CO poisoning
Common symptoms include headache, tiredness and being sick.
The greater the amount of CO the more severe the symptoms will get leading to weakness, loss of balance and memory.
Extreme levels may well cause collapse, unconsciousness and death.
Prevent the build-up of CO
Any appliance that burns carbon based fuels should be properly installed and serviced by someone who is competent. They will be able to ensure that there is an adequate air supply to run the appliance and that flues are properly installed where they are fitted. It is also worth buying an audible CO alarm that will immediately alert you to any carbon monoxide in your boat.
The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is identified as a critical safety issue in the RYA’s Safety Advisory Notice 01/2014. Read the Safety-Advisory-Notice and find out more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.