Where Would a Boat Produce the Highest Concentration of Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide gas is no news to marine students.

As a future boater, you learn its origin and impacts in a boat safety course; however, most learners overlook where the gas is more concentrated.

One question I often get asked is, ‘where would a boat produce the highest concentration of carbon monoxide?

As a future boater, you learn its origin and impacts in a boat safety course; however, most learners overlook where the gas is more concentrated.

One question I often get asked is, ‘where would a boat produce the highest concentration of carbon monoxide?

Let’s guide you on how to answer the question should you come across it.

Where Would a Boat Produce the Highest Concentration of Carbon Monoxide?

High levels of carbon monoxide are found around the engine (where it is produced) and the exhaust system (where it is released).

The engine is the primary source of carbon monoxide in a boat. Boats are propelled by the engine energy burning fuel produces (petrol, diesel, or gasoline).

The smoke released through the boat’s exhaust pipe contains CO and other hazardous pollutants.

The amount of Carbon monoxide emitted varies depending on the type of engine. You should check the manufacturer’s specifications before you pay for the engine.

You are advised to shop around for better rates and varieties of safer engines.

CO is a by-product of the incomplete burning of carbon dioxide (CO2) in oxygen. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless but poisonous.

The gaseous compound is present in smoke from fuels (wood, coal, and gasoline) and dust.

The gas can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, dizziness, and even death if ingested. Passengers in a boat should stay away from a running engine to avoid inhaling the poisonous gas.

Despite being a health hazard, CO can damage the engine. It is, therefore, imperative for a boater to run their boat correctly to minimize the amount of CO generated.

Riding a boat at high speed hinders the complete combustion of engine oil, thus increasing carbon monoxide levels. Medium speed minimizes accidents and the amount of CO released by a boat.

Carbon monoxide levels are higher during winter when boats use fuel-burning appliances. Every boat should have a CO detector to sense the slightest gas traces.

All boaters should know how to manage CO before it causes irreversible damage.

The gas should be released safely from the vessel into the atmosphere before the passengers inhale or absorb it through their skins.

The USCG requires every boat to have a functional exhaust system and proper ventilation.

Regular boat service is necessary to check the fitness of the engine and the exhaust system.

Factors That Affect Carbon Monoxide Levels On A Boat

The following factors determine the amount of carbon monoxide emitted and trapped in a recreational watercraft:

 The Type Of Engine Oil Used

Engine oils containing complex chemical compounds are less combustible, releasing more carbon monoxide. Cheap, counterfeit petrol products are such examples.

You’re advised to use the recommended engine oil for your boat; check the manufacturer’s guide.

The Size Of The Engine

Small (portable) engines, however convenient, have limited space for fuel combustion, hence more CO levels. Boats with large engines are therefore recommended.

The Boats Architecture

A poorly designed boat with a faulty exhaust system increases CO concentration in a vessel, while an adequately ventilated boat has negligible CO levels.

The Boats Speed

A vessel’s speed directly influences the amount of carbon monoxide the engine emits. High speed hinders complete fuel combustion; most of the fuel passes unburnt.

The Prevailing Weather Conditions

High temperatures compromise an engine’s efficiency. A poorly performing engine does not burn fuel as expected, thus releasing high amounts of CO.

Excess Carbon Dioxide In The Air

The amount of carbon dioxide in the air directly influences the amount of CO produced. Excess carbon dioxide translates to more carbon monoxide.

Enough oxygen should be allowed into the boat to counter the excess carbon dioxide.

Minimal Supply Of Oxygen

Oxygen is vital when for complete combustion. Less combustion means incomplete combustion hence more carbon monoxide.

Every boat should have a sufficient oxygen supply.

What Are The Dangers Of High Carbon Monoxide In A Boat?

Most people assume that CO poisoning is impossible for outdoor houseboats. However, research at Lake Powel proves that 74 CO poison cases were recorded between 1990-2000. These are the effects of carbon monoxide:

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas, and high concentration compromises the well-being of passengers

A boater who inhales, ingests, or absorbs high levels of CO into their bloodstream can suffer nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. In worst cases, the victims suffer unconsciousness or even death.

Boat passengers should be aware of early intoxication signs to avoid complications. Boat captains should conduct safety precautions before passengers board the vessel should an emergency arise during the trip.

Early detection, diagnosis, and prompt treatment of intoxication save lives. First aid should be administered to the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Passengers with previous medical history detailing breathing complications should be more careful or avoid the boat trip altogether.

  • The intensity of carbon monoxide poisoning depends on factors such as:
  • The concentration of the poisonous gas.
  • The amount of time the victim was exposed to the gas.
  • Age of the victims.
  • If the victim is pregnant or not.

What Is The Best Protection Against Carbon Monoxide While Boating?

The following practices will minimize carbon monoxide poisoning casualties and maintain your vessel’s engine in the proper condition:

  1. Boaters should schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance to optimize their performance. An unmaintained engine produces incredible levels of CO.
  2. Clear any blockage on the exhaust system that could hinder the flow of carbon monoxide. Blocked fumes find their way into the vessel.
  3. Ensure proper ventilation in the boat. Proper ventilation allows adequate circulation of clean air in the watercraft.
  4. Air purifiers are recommended in case of closed cabins
  5. A proper sitting arrangement is encouraged. Passengers should sit away from the engine, its environs, and the area around the exhaust pipe.
  6. Your passengers should not swim around the exhaust vent or under the swimming platforms. The deck can also trap some elements of carbon monoxide.
  7. Passengers should also avoid overcrowding. The number of passengers that should be allowed in a particular boat is indicated in the capacity plate.
  8. Nobody aboard the watercraft should smoke cigarettes while on the boat. Cigarette smoke contains carbon dioxide, which releases carbon monoxide as a by-product.
  9. Every passenger should wear a USCG-approved personal floatation device when boarding a boat. The device keeps you afloat should you jump out of the boat to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  10. Sailing against the winds blows away the CO- containing smoke.
  11. The boat captain should blow his whistle to alert a nearby boater for rescue in case of an unsolvable emergency involving carbon monoxide leakage.
  12. Install CO detectors and alarms in boats or repair the defective ones if installed. A sensor is necessary because:
  • Its colorless nature hinders early detection if leaked. You can’t rely on your eyes to detect the presence of any gas.
  • CO is odorless; hence the sense of smell will not detect it.
  • The early signs of carbon monoxide in the body are mild; hence tricky to fathom if it’s the cause of the symptoms.
  • People react differently based on their previous health history. A healthy person can withstand small amounts of CO, while an asthmatic person will respond even to small levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Small amounts of carbon monoxide build up into toxic levels within no time, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas.


When Should A Blower Be Used On Gasoline-Powered Boats?

It is recommended to use an engine’s blower only when necessitated, contrary to the misguided belief that a blower must always be on.

A blower should, for instance, be used when cruising through rough waters. A boat’s engine is overworked in such a situation and tends to overheat; a blower will cool the engine.

You should run the blower for 4 minutes before you ignite the engine.

How Long Does It Take For Carbon Monoxide To Dissipate?

If a passenger ingests high levels of carbon monoxide, it could take up to 24 hours for carbon monoxide to leave your system. Such cases of acute CO intoxication require admission into the hyperbaric chambers.

However, low levels of CO in your bloodstream will disappear if you stay in fresh air for 4 hours.

The boat captain and his passengers should take prompt safety action as soon as the gas detector alarm rings to avoid severe carbon monoxide cases.

What Are The Symptoms Of Carbon Dioxide Poisoning In A Boater?

Do not ignore any of the following symptoms when on a boat; they could signal CO leakage:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Unconsciousness
  • Poor coordination

Final Thoughts

Carbon monoxide in a boat comes from the engine and is released via the exhaust system. High concentration of the gas is, therefore, around these areas.

High CO levels are dangerous to the passengers’ health and the engine.

Early detection of the gas gives room for safety action.

You should always ensure fresh air circulation while on a boat.

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