Carbon Monoxide Warning - Death in Just One Breath?

By Jeffery Butler, a Director of the Federation of Ontario's Cottages' Associations (FOCA)

It is said that Carbon Monoxide (CO) has the potential to kill with just one concentrated breath. This is because our blood absorbs CO 200 to 300 times faster than oxygen! To make matters worse, studies also show that it can take 2 to 5 hours to get rid of ½ the CO exposure from our system and more than a day to get rid of the rest. Just some of the reasons CO can be deadly!

You should also be aware that Carbon Monoxide is difficult to detect, since it is a colourless, odourless and a tasteless gas. We come so close to it everyday that most people tend to forget the hazards. It is produced by carbon based fuels such as gasoline, charcoal and propane that we use in cars, boats, propane fired stoves and hot water heaters, BBQ’s, etc.

Proper venting, well-maintained exhaust systems and good overall ventilation are necessary to minimize most risks.

But, it’s not always what you know that can kill you!

In recent months, experts have become increasingly aware of a number of different situations that are now recognized as potentially deadly. More recent investigations have gathered new information to suggest that we are flirting with Carbon Monoxide poisoning much more often than we ever thought before. Its not just the car in the garage, a BBQ on a porch that is dangerous or a poorly vented hot water tank. For boaters, even small boat boaters, consider the potentially dangerous CO buildup when you idle your boat in a boathouse on a still, calm day. Are you getting enough ventilation? When weather prompts you to have the top up, are you getting the ventilation you need, especially at slow speeds? Is your ageing exhaust system working properly? Consider too, the concept of back-drafting at slow or trolling speeds or, what we used to refer to as the station wagon effect. This is where a slight tail wind or back-draft can cause the buildup of Carbon Monoxide gas in a cockpit under protective rain or sun coverings. In boats with cuddy cabins, boaters should be particularly cautious about the build up of CO at slow speeds or idle. And, never go swimming off the swim platform of a boat without ensuring gases bubbling up from the propeller hub have cleared away.

Remember too, Carbon Monoxide can travel. While heavier than air, CO can leave an exhaust hub (propeller) under water, bubble to the surface and (while still hot) rise up, travel with a breeze, all before settling back down again. This is how CO travels from one boat to another boats cuddy cabin!

Should this concern take the fun out of boating?

No. Definitely not. Most often, simply being aware of a potential problem and taking a couple of preventative measures can add to enjoyment with an added sense of comfort.


Remember again. Carbon Monoxide is very difficult to detect, as it is a colourless, odourless and a tasteless gas. Early symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are often confused with seasickness and can include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness. Protect your self. Always be alert. Have your exhaust and venting systems checked regularly. Install CO detectors in your boats if you have a situation of concern, or when you troll with your top up or have a cuddy cabin.

Awareness & Proper ventilation may be the key to avoid the Carbon Monoxide killer. 

This article was taken from page 17 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, May/June 2003 Issue


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