A sad reminder of the CO danger

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Every so often, something happens that brings home the dangers closely associated with our way of life and hobby. Preventing carbon monoxide (CO) accumulation has been in the forefront of the fight to make life on a boat safer, with compulsory CO meters, adequate ventilation and a programme to make boaters more aware of the dangers. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has just released the findings of an investigation into the deaths of two people on a cruiser in York, which makes sobering reading. The link to the full report is given below and I really would recommend that you read it, but the following is a short synopsis.

The summary from the MAIB is as follows:

‘At about 2000 on 4 December 2019, the bodies of two men were discovered in the cabin of the privately owned motor cruiser, Diversion, which was moored to a quay in the centre of York, England. The bodies were those of the boat owner and his friend, who had spent the previous evening in the city centre socialising with former work colleagues and were spending the night on board. Both men had died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The carbon monoxide had leaked into the cabin from the boat’s diesel-fuelled cabin heater exhaust.’

The report explains that the exhaust fitted to the Eberspächer heater was from a Webasto and designed for a lorry rather than marine use. It was the wrong diameter and was also only spot welded in place and therefore not gas-tight. This resulted in a high concentration of CO being released into the boat. The report says that there had been reports of nausea and sickness at previous times, which is an indication of CO poisoning, but this was not picked up on by the owners. Also, there were no CO alarms and the ventilation was inadequate, with just a few holes drilled and hidden behind a louvre grill.

CO alarms became compulsory about the time of this incident so even now, with the four-year cycle for a BSS, there can still be many boats without a CO alarm. If you haven’t got one, I would fervently suggest that you get one as soon as possible. Also, ensure you get the correct version; it should be Kitemarked to BS EN 50291-2 (for camping/caravans/boats) and suitable ones are listed on the BSS website.

As a BSS examiner, I actually came across ventilation grills that had no holes behind them, just screwed to a door, but the owners had no idea it was like that. It’s easy to check your ventilation by poking a bit of wire through, or by removing the grill if you can’t see light through it.

Boaters tend to be pretty good at DIY; it’s almost part of the way of life. If you are going to work on something like a heater, please check the manufacturer’s recommendations and follow them; they are usually all available on-line. If you aren’t sure, get a professional to do the work. None of us is expert at everything.

CO is produced by combustion: stove smoke, boat engine exhausts and heater exhausts are all meant to be lead outside your boat and away from the cabin. The only appliance you can have on a boat without a flue is your gas cooker. Everything else must have one, so don’t light that paraffin stove you brought from your house (as I have seen suggested on social media); it really isn’t a good idea.

Even on the best maintained boats, exhaust fumes can be blown back into the boat if the wind is in the wrong direction and windows are open. If you are moored next to another boat, its fumes can be blown into your boat, so ensure that your CO alarm is operational at all times.

Please check your appliances, check your alarms and stay safe everyone.

John Devonald