Boaters warned of carbon monoxide poisoning

The California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) issued a boater's advisory in August, warning about the danger of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in boating.

In California, three boaters have died from boating-related CO poisoning over the past two years. Nationwide, as of November 2003, there were 503 boating-related carbon monoxide deaths and non-fatal poisonings. Of these accidents, 493 occurred between 1990 and 2003, six occurred in the 1980s. Thirty-four of the poisonings occurred in California. Carbon monoxide statistics may actually be higher, as some deaths may have been attributed to other causes, such as intoxication or heart attack.

"Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, and it may be surprising that it can be a danger in the open-air environment," said DBW Director Ray Tsuneyoshi. "That's why we're trying to get the word out, to save lives."

A new fad that has taken a toll nationally has made its way to California: "teak surfing" or "drag surfing." This activity involves clinging to the swim platform or transom of an underway boat, then letting go and body surfing. In addition to the danger of propeller injury, teak surfers risk drowning.

Exposure to engine exhaust can cause a teak surfer to faint and, if not wearing a life jacket, to drown. Many boaters are aware that carbon monoxide is a danger in enclosed spaces when using on-board generators, heaters and stoves. But the gas can also accumulate in areas around and under a motorboat's swim platform. Testing on late model ski boats has measured 90-1,000 ppm. According to the World Health Organization, a level exceeding 87 ppm during a 15 minute interval is considered dangerous. Boaters should avoid boat engine exhaust vent areas and not swim in these areas when the engine or generator is operating.

The symptoms of CO poisoning may include severe headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, fainting and death. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headache. Low levels can be more dangerous in the boating environment as they can lead to drowning. Carbon monoxide poisoning may not be immediately suspected since symptoms may be similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses. If CO poisoning is suspected, get the victim fresh air immediately and seek medical care.

For a pamphlet on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning on and a warning decal, visit www.dbw.ca.gov, call tollfree (888) 3226-2822, or write to Department of Boating and Waterways, 2000 Evergreen St., Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95815.

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