In the wake of Australia's Cyclone Yasi related death of a 23-year-old Queensland man by carbon monoxide poisoning, marine surveyor Paul Slivka?nid=80212 has drawn attention to the danger of death by asphyxiation on board both sailing and power boats.
The man, whose death was one of the only fatalities during Cyclone Yasi, had been sheltering from the cyclone in a shed where he was operating a generator. Slivka points out that there have been cases where fatalities have occurred, or almost occurred where people slept on boats in seemingly innocuous circumstances while breathing lethal quantities of carbon monoxide.
Speaking after the Yasi death, Queensland Ambulance Service Commissioner David Melville said carbon monoxide was a colourless and odourless gas that could sneak up on people and in extreme circumstances cause death.
'Carbon monoxide is highly poisonous as it consumes oxygen out of the blood causing people to potentially drift off to sleep and never wake up. Initial symptoms which people should be aware of include headaches, vomiting and mild nausea,' Mr Melville said.
In one yacht-related case, a man and a woman in a powerboat anchored for the night, and turned on the air conditioning. While all systems seemed in order at the time, a 'Murphy's Law' of several separate circumstances, from some of the equipment on board being installed upside down, to the fact that the woman was coincidentally sleeping against the air intake grill, meant that carbon monoxide was being drawn into the yacht as the couple slept.
An equally bizarre - and fortuitous - circumstance saved the lives of the two. The tank supplying the generator ran out of fuel, and the carbon monoxide ceased to enter the cabin.
Even so, while the man, who woke first, has made a full recovery, the woman is possibly left with paralysis of parts of her body for life.
The case has been written up fully by another marine surveyor, J.G. Merritt, who points out that while in this case the boat was a power boat, sailing boats are not exempt, and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in its early stages can resemble sea sickness..
He offers this advice, as lessons from the incident, to marine surveyors: Carbon monoxide is deadly and ignoring seemingly inconsequential and unrelated issues—a rattling generator, unreliable or incorrectly mounted CO detector—along with gaps in engine room bulkheads and poorly mounted air conditioner units can add up to kill. Surveyors would do well to look for issues that could create the potential for CO poisoning as well as informing owners of the proper way to use equipment that can produce CO. One more thing to note: surveyors need to remember that diesel-powered boats are not exempt from this hazard since gas generators may be installed.
To read the full horrifying story of the incident, related in the Boat U.S. Technical Exchange for Professionals magazine, click here
As a yacht owner, request that your own marine surveyor takes any circumstances that could enable carbon monoxide poisoning into consideration when surveying a yacht for you.
........................ Letter from Reader:
Sender: rod waterhouse
Message: We were sailing my 6 month old Beneteau 473 back from Europe in 2004.
I was motor sailing at night between Panama and Galapagos Islands.
Kids were asleep in rear cabins and my wife Kerry asleep in forward cabin.
I was on watch and did a routine check downstairs.
I was horrified to find water over the floor and smoke in cabin..
I yelled and was able to get everyone awake outside and ok before trying to find the problem.
It turned out to be a sheared Muffler at the exhaust outlet.Basically I had been pumping Carbon Monoxide,and water into the boat and so lucky no one was killed.
A brand new Vetus muffler had broken and when questioning a dealer in Equador and stressing how dangerous that situation was he told me he had seen this before on same muffler.
Like car companies the big boat manufacturers should be recalling in such extreme cases.
So be aware that this is a serious and dangerous issue and anyone can be a victim.We were very fortunate to escape unhurt.