Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

09 October 2015

In July 2013 four people, were treated for carbon monoxide inhalation when their boat on the Tambo River near Paynesville filled with engine fumes. 

In April 2015 a boat was circling 500 metres offshore in Port Phillip Bay and when boarded by Police three people were found unconscious. Police believe a carbon monoxide leak was responsible.
On 7th July 2015 three children were taken to hospital after a carbon monoxide leak on a boat at Lakes Entrance. They were all down below deck in the cabin where high levels of carbon monoxide were detected by the CFA response team.
Fortunately for the occupants of the incidents above, they all survived.
Incidents do occur where the occupants of leisure boats have been overcome by the effects of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning, where they experience minimal exposure and suffer symptoms that they do not connect with this silent and deadly killer.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is produced in the exhaust gases of internal combustion engines, including gasoline powered generators, heating and cooking appliances. It is invisible, odourless, tasteless, and deadly. It enters the bloodstream through the lungs, blocking the oxygen your body needs. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations or short exposure to high concentrations can be fatal. Typical symptoms of CO exposure can be mistaken for the flu, seasickness, or intoxication, making accurate on board Carbon Monoxide detection a necessity.
The source of Carbon Monoxide may not come from your own boat but can be transferred from a neighbouring vessel within a marina environment, or multiple moorings in close proximity to one another, where a wind shift can create a dangerous situation, particularly in confined areas like boat cabins and sleeping quarters.  Carbon Monoxide can accumulate in many ways, such as inadequately ventilated enclosures, blocked exhaust outlets, another vessel’s exhaust, the “station wagon effect” or back drafting and at idle or slow speeds.
Installing and maintaining marine-grade CO detectors inside your boat can help protect you, your family or crew by helping to minimise the exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas. A carbon monoxide detector should be installed in each accommodation space. Small craft with an open design may require only one detector for adequate protection. If two or more sleeping areas or spaces are partitioned, then one detector should be installed in each of the spaces. Ideally, installation of the detector should be at eye level for easy monitoring and service. However, CO detectors such as the Fireboy-Xintex are approved for wall or ceiling mounting. It is important to note that the detector should not be mounted within one foot of corners or other “dead air” spaces and should not be located within five feet of any cooking appliance. Typical accommodation spaces are galleys, aft cabins, and v-berths.
Marine carbon monoxide detectors are manufactured to comply with UL Marine Standard 2034, Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms.  In that standard, Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) mandated a built in End of Life requirement for carbon monoxide detectors to ensure that these very important detectors maintain a high level of functional integrity to protect and warn about the presence of carbon monoxide.
The first of these detectors began distribution around May 2010, so we can expect these devices to start emitting a chirping, buzzing or other audible tone to alert the occupant/s that replacement is required. However, not all CO detectors’ built in End of Life alert mechanisms are 5 years, some may be 7 or even 10. Therefore, you should check the labels that identify the manufacture date of the unit, model and the End of Life date.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a silent, deadly killer that can impact on your boating experience with tragic consequences.
Fire Protection Technologies is an Australian owned specialist fire protection company focusing on unique and special hazard applications, with expertise in design and engineering solutions and are the sole Australian distributor of Fireboy-Xintex Fire Extinguishing products including the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Sentinel CMD-4M-RLY and Sentinel CMD-4M detectors.