Boat Carbon Monoxide Detectors and the Importance of Having One Onboard

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, colorless, and odorless type of flammable gas with poisonous effects. Due to its nature, it's impossible for human beings to detect it since it can’t be smelled or seen. While CO poisoning can occur in a wide range of places, one of the places where there is a high potential of accumulation of this gas is in boats. That’s why boats need to have carbon monoxide detectors that issue alerts when the concentration of CO reaches a dangerous level. But what are some of the causes of CO build-up in boats and possible signs of CO poisoning? Besides that, do boats really need to have CO detectors? Well, let’s find out.


Do You Really Need a Boat Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Yes. Your boat needs to at least have one CO detector. It’s estimated that around 7 people a days die from boat CO poisoning annually in the US alone. Some of the deaths are tragic in every sense since they could have been avoided if only the boats had CO detectors.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Boats

CO poisoning in boats normally occur due to the following cause factors:

* Gasoline Generators
* Gasoline Engine Exhaust
* Exhaust Redirection
* Station Wagon Effect
* Neighboring Boat Exhaust
* Propane Appliances

How CO Detectors Work

The functioning of all CO detectors is the same. These devices are meant to emit alarms when they detect high levels of CO but before these levels become life-threatening. Over the years, the design of these devices has been improved to enhance their effectiveness.

Note that most CO detectors for boats are battery-powered while there are also hardwired varieties that can be plugged into the boat’s power system. The latter isn’t ideal in this case since it can only function when it’s plugged into a source of power. Besides that, electricity-based alarms usually consume a significant amount of power. This is because they are normally made with solid-state sensors that have to continuously run on sampling and purging cycle.

How Carbon Monoxide Occurs in Boats

CO poison is common in boats with gasoline-powered engines including onboard generators. So, how does this poisonous gas build up in a boat? Well, larger types of boats such as houseboats are sometimes made with generators that vent facing towards the rear side of the boat.

Note that this type of vent clearly poses a threat of CO poisoning to those people who are on board and are located on the water platform or the rear swim deck. Besides that, larger boats usually accumulate more CO2 above the water level but near the water platform. This means that the poisonous gas will end building up in the air space that’s found beneath the stern deck. Additionally, it can also accumulate near or on the swim deck.

While those two are the main causes of CO building up in a boat, boats that are idling in water or traveling at significantly low speeds are also at a risk. The gas might eventually find its way in the aft deck, cabin, bridge, cockpit, or any other open area. If the boat is out in the water during a windy day, then it would be easier for the gas to accumulate in the body from the aft section.

Other triggering causes of CO building in a boat include back drafting. It can result in the accumulation of this gas inside the bridge, cockpit, and cabin when the boat is being operated at a high-bow angle, when it's heavily loaded, improperly loaded, or even when it has an opening that’s used to draw in the exhaust fumes.

What about the station wagon effect or propane appliances? Well, the station wagon effect is a phenomenon that usually occurs when gas from the exhaust is circled back into the cabin and cockpit at high speeds due to the pressure differential. When the boat is moving, the exhaust gas will find its way back to parts of the vessels that have a low level of pressure. Eventually, the poisonous gas will accumulate in the cabin and cockpit.

When it comes to propane appliances, this is normally due to the CO that’s generated by the gas cooking appliances, grills, water boilers, and gas heaters found in the boat. That’s why when someone is cooking in the boat, a door or window needs to be open to allow for proper air circulation. This will help to ensure that there is enough oxygen to facilitate the combustion of propane.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In case a person has been exposed to dangerous levels of CO gas, they will end up with poisoning. Symptoms are usually mild at the start but will quickly escalate if the exposure continues and this will lead to severe consequences.

Generally, signs and symptoms of CO poisoning will resemble those of flu. That’s why without detectors, many people might fail to know that they have been exposed to CO until it's too late. Knowing the signs and symptoms of CO is important for emergency situations and they include:

* Weakness or fatigue
* Shortness of breath
* Dizziness and headache
* Generally feeling of illness or health discomfort
* Chest pains
* Digestive discomfort or nausea
* vomiting
* Light-headedness
* Delirium
* Blurry vision
* Unconsciousness
* Death

Ideal Types of Carbon Monoxide Detectors for Boats

While there are many types of CO detectors on the market, there are only specific marine CO detectors that are suitable for boats. They include:

Replaceable Battery CO Detectors

You need to replace the batteries regularly, at least after every 6 months. However, you can use the alarm till the end of its lifetime which is usually 5 years on average. CO detectors with replaceable batteries are cheaper since you have to buy a replacement regularly.

Sealed Battery CO Detectors

Just like the name suggests, these detectors come with sealed battery sections. So, once the battery runs out, the unit will chirp and this will prompt you to replace the whole unit. Note that the battery units of such devices are usually tamper-proof and can have a lifetime of 5 years or more. Buying such detectors is only a good idea if you don’t want to regularly replace the batteries.

_Note: It's advisable to avoid high-powered alarms since they quickly drain out the power supply._

Importance of Having Boat Carbon Monoxide Detectors on Board

Having a marine CO detector can help to save lives. Note that CO is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that’s toxic. Under normal circumstances, it's quite difficult to determine if there is a leak. This makes it even worse when you are in about because much of your focus will definitely be elsewhere.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, around 200 people lose their lives every year due to CO poisoning. In addition to that, more than 5000 people experience injuries annually due to CO poisoning. However, these numbers can be significantly reduced if people can consider installing these devices. CO detectors for boats have significantly reduced deaths and injuries.



Where Should CO Detectors for Boats be Placed?

When it comes to placing CO detectors in boats, there is actually a lot of misinformation, especially on the web. you might have come across some sources that say you should place these items on the low due to the fact that CO is a heavier gas. On the other hand, there are sources that indicate you should place the detectors high on the ceilings. Well, all these sources are wrong!

CO poisoning occurs because the gas mixes with the air evenly. This means that it nearly has the same level of density as air and this has been scientifically proven. So, where should you place your detectors? Ideally, you should place your alarms at any height. However, ensure that you place these alarms at a practical height where kids can’t tamper with them or in places with high traffic areas.

Some of the places where you should consider placing these items include:

* The cockpit area and the rear back: ensure that you get waterproof CO detectors for these areas. Placing them here will help to monitor CO accumulation due to changes in the wind direction or the station wagon effect.
* Cabin space and sleeping areas: in most cases, deaths from CO poisoning usually occur when the occupants are asleep. That’s why it's important to place C0 detectors in these places.
* Large craft: Note that larger crafts usually have aft and forward cabins in addition to convertible sofas. Such situations require that these boats have at least 3 CO alarm systems. besides that, the devices need to be placed at an eye-level height to enhance servicing and monitoring convenience.
* Small craft: due to its small design, you may need only one detector to ensure that your boat has adequate protection.
* Partitioned sleeping areas: in case there are several partitioned sleeping areas, then each area needs its own CO detector.

Acceptable CO Levels in a Boat


Currently, there aren’t specific standards when it comes to the concentration of CO in boats. Well, it gets confusing since different organizations, departments, and agencies have their own recommended exposure levels. But for personal safety, here are the proposed limits by some of the renowned organizations and agencies.

* The World Health Organization (WHO): average 9 ppm over 8 hours
* Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Average 9 ppm over 8 hours
* The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, & Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE): Average 9 ppm over 8 hours.
* The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH): Average 25 ppm over 8 hours
* National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Average 35 ppm over 10 hours



How to Prevent CO Poisoning in a Boat

Having boat CO detectors is critical in preventing CO poisoning. But knowing that this gas is one of the top 5 causes of death among boaters means that you should exercise caution. Its devastating effects are preventable and this means you should know how to protect yourself, fellow boaters, and your passengers.

* Stay in constant motion: get moving by avoiding prolonged idleness or even traveling at slower speeds.
* Breathe easy: one of the main things that would easily lead to a faster buildup of CO in a boat is a blocked ventilation system. open the exhaust outlets and the ventilation louvers to facilitate air circulation. Besides that, regularly check your CO detector to ensure that it's functional.
* Balance the boatload: ensure that your boat isn’t operated at a high bow angle. When the boat is overloaded or when a load is improperly positioned then you and your passengers will be at risk of back drafting, which is one of the main causes of CO building up in the cockpit, cabin, and bridge.
* Move forward: avoid swimming or sitting under or near the platform or the boat’s rear deck when the engine is on. Additionally, you need to avoid these areas for at least 15 minutes once the engine is shut off.
* Spread out: activities such as tubing, surfing, water skiing, or wakeboarding should be avoided within a 20 feet radius of the boat, while it's in motion. Besides that, you shouldn’t raft, anchor, or dock within a 20 feet space range of other boats that have their generators or engines running.
* Pay close attention to kids: monitor children closely, especially when they are playing on the water platforms or the rear swim decks.
* Educate all the passengers: ensure that all the people on board are aware of the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning

First Aid for CO Poisoning

Get the affected person some fresh air: Start by moving the person away from the area suspected to have CO gas. In case the person is in an unconscious state, then check if they have any visible injuries before you move them.

* Turn off the possible source: it's only right that you turn off the possible source of CO poisoning because soon it might affect you as well.
* Call the emergency hotline: you can call the nearby boater’s emergency hotline as well as 911. Just make sure that you notify them of CO poisoning and then medics will give you an immediate recommendation, starting with CPR while they make the appropriate arrangements.
* Begin the CPR: if necessary, start the CPR, especially when the affected person is not breathing normally, is unresponsive, or not breathing at all. If it’s a child, then start with CPR for children. You are obliged to continue with the CPR until the person starts to breath normally or when the emergency services arrive.
* Follow up: this is usually done at medical facility. If the condition is serious, then the person will be treated with 100% oxygen. Mild poisoning is usually delivered with an oxygen mask while severe poisoning may require the patient to be placed in a high-pressure chamber to fully enforce oxygen into their body.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Boat Carbon Monoxide Detector

When buying CO detectors for boats, there are definitely certain functionality factors that you should consider. There are multiple types including plug-in, hard-wired, and battery-operated. For boating, the battery-operated type is definitely the best since it's simpler to install and it doesn’t depend on electricity. Besides that, other factors that you should consider include:

* Your cities or region’s regulations regarding the available types of CO detectors and their placement. These codes might differ regionally.
* Ensure that the products you choose meet the stipulated alarm standards
* Its lifetime from the date of manufacturing. It's worth noting that these devices usually lose their sensitivity over time. so, you should be ready to replace your detectors at least every 5 years.

The Bottom Line

It is possible to get CO poisoning while you are in a boat. The symptoms usually vary depending on the level of exposure. If the exposure is moderate, then you might start by experiencing weakness, dizziness, but this can quickly progress to confusion, headache, and chest pain. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and tragically death. So, to eliminate all these from happening and the potential loss of lives, boats definitely need to have CO detectors.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors for Boat FAQs

Q: How Does CO Get Produced in Most Boats?

A: There are several ways in which this poisonous gas can be produced. It normally involves one or a combination of these causes:

* Exhaust fumes coming from the boat’s engine or generator
* A technically faulty, misused, or badly maintained boat appliance
* Flue gases escaping from solid fuel stoves
* Short air supply due to blocked ventilation systems.

Q: Where Should I Install Boat CO2 Doctors?

A: You need to install CO detectors in every boat carbon. This is the surest and most effective way of ensuring you have a good defense against a potentially harmful problem. Besides that, you should avoid any activity that can affect the functionality of these detectors.

Q: How Do I Know if a Marine CO Detector is Working?

A: You can test it by holding down the “test” button until when you hear the sounding off of two beeps. If you hear the two beeps, then you should release your finger from the test button since it means that the detector is functional.

Q: What Should I Do If I Hear the Alarm Going Off?

A: It means that dangerous CO levels have been detected and you should therefore consider ventilating the room. Open all the channels of ventilation to allow fresh air in. Besides that, you should try and consider the source of the gas.

Generally, these alarms usually beep in the form of patterns. Understanding the difference between the beeps will help you understand the level of emergency situation you are in.

* 1 beep every minute: it simply means that the detector has low batteries and you should consider replacing them.
* 4 beeps and a pause: there is CO in the air and you should open all the possible ventilation systems and call for emergency services.
* 5 beeps every minute: your alarm has reached the end of its lifetime and needs replacement.

Q: How Often Should I Test and Replace the CO Detectors for Boats?

A: you should test these detectors regularly, at least once a month. in case the detectors are made with replaceable batteries, then you should consider replacing them every 6 months. Note that these devices also have a lifespan of generally 5-7 years. So, it's important that you check each of the product’s specific lifetime.

Q: How Can I Avoid a CO Poisoning Incident?

A: To ensure that your boat is safe, you should consider implementing the following:

* Properly install all the fuel-burning appliances
* All the appliances including engines should be routinely maintained
* All technical problems should be dealt with immediately
* Test your alarms routinely
* Don’t allow room for bad maintenance and repairs
* Use all boat equipment correctly
* Don’t allow boat engine fumes into your cabin space
* Understand all the signs of possible CO poisoning and know how to react

Q: How Can You Tell if Your Boat is in Danger of CO Poisoning?

A: Apart from the alarm by the CO detector, there are other signs that you can potentially look out for. They include:

* Burners that produce orange or yellow flames rather than blue flames
* Fire appliances that are difficult to light or even keep lit
* Pilot lights that go out frequently
* A yellow or brown staining/soot found on or around appliances
* An increased level of condensation visible on the windows
* You can potentially smell exhaust fumes while you’re in the cabin

Q: Can I Leave the Detectors Inside the Boat Throughout the Year?

A: It depends on where the boat will be stored most of the time. In case the storage conditions are extreme, then it’s advisable that you remove the detectors since they might malfunction when they are repeatedly exposed to scorching or freezing temperatures.

If you are going to put them away, ensure that the detectors are stored in a place with room temperature, away from magnetic and electromagnetic sources such as mobile phones. Besides that, ensure that these products don’t come in close contact with harsh chemicals, exhaust gas, and concentrated vapors. Lastly, the environment needs to be clean, free of dirt and dust.