By Pamela Hahn - May 2021
Are you aware that carbon monoxide poses a danger while boating? Many people assume that because they are outside, there is no possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. Sadly, this is just not true.
As boaters on Lake Anna, we should all be aware of the risks associated with carbon monoxide. Many, if not all carbon monoxide poisonings are totally preventable.
How many times have you, a family member or friend, complained of feeling tired, having a headache, or feeling queasy, after a long day on the lake? Have you, like hundreds of other people, attributed those feelings to too much sun, fun, and alcohol? Would you be surprised to know that you may have actually been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning?
Did you know that boaters are injured or killed by carbon monoxide every year? This odorless, colorless and tasteless gas can sicken or kill you inside or outside your boat.
Federal Officials have known for years that carbon monoxide can reach deadly levels inside of houseboats. Evidence has been found in the last several years that carbon monoxide can accumulate in deadly concentrations behind ski and wakeboard boats. Did you know that there is also evidence that carbon monoxide levels can be dangerous behind personal watercraft as well?
According to the United States Coast Guard, carbon monoxide from boating was responsible for 5 deaths and 31 poisonings in 2019. Shockingly, these numbers may actually be higher. Over the years, there have been deaths attributed to heart attack or drowning that actually may have been due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Activities that increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning include “teak surfing”. This is when a swimmer hangs onto a powerboat’s swimming platform while being towed through the water, eventually letting go when the wake is large enough for body surfing. Swim decks are located where deadly exhaust fumes are accumulating, creating dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. This activity has been responsible for at least 11 deaths and multiple injuries due to carbon monoxide poisoning. This sport is now illegal in several states and the National Park System, but is still allowed in Virginia. Please be aware that this means that it is also potentially lethal to sit on a swim deck while engines are running and points to increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning during towed watersports.
Any gasoline powered boat engine produces carbon monoxide which can accumulate near the stern. These levels can become quite dangerous when boats are operating at low speed. This news should be of particular concern for those of us on Lake Anna due to the many no wake zones.
The United States Coastguard published a leaflet in 2008 detailing the dangers of boating and carbon monoxide. In it, they listed many real life scenarios of carbon monoxide poisonings. The following one hit home: “...two women suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while swimming among a number of boats that were afloat in a cove at the far northern end of a lake. Boaters often gather there and leave engines and generators running, creating the potential for CO poisoning. The women were pulled from the water by off-duty firefighters. The women were breathing on their own but in an “altered stage of consciousness” because of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Please share this boat safety checklist with your friends and neighbors. Let’s keep those we love safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.