‘Let there be no repeat, boaters must respect their gas appliances’; says the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) during national Gas Safety Week 2014 in remembering last winter’s twin fatalities from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning on a small commercial fishing boat in Whitby harbour.
According to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on fv Eshcol, the sleeping victims died in their bunks from the highly toxic fumes given off by a poorly maintained LPG-burning cooker used incorrectly as a heater to warm the accommodation space and there was no CO alarm to wake them.
Problems start when carbon-based fuels including butane and propane, don’t burn completely, and CO is produced as a by-product.
CO will spread round the relatively small space of a cabin quickly, unseen and un-smelt, silently filling a boat with a gas that chemically attacks its victims by replacing oxygen in the bloodstream, preventing essential supplies to tissues, heart, brain and other vital organs.
It can and has killed in minutes. Even where victims survive severe CO poisoning they can be left with long-term brain damage such as poorer concentration, or mood swings and other effects
It’s not safe at any concentration, breathing-in lower levels of CO over a longer period can lead to memory problems and difficulty concentrating.
There are some common threads to incidents of CO poisonings on boats, these are:
- faulty equipment,
- poor or overdue maintenance,
- misused appliances,
- early symptoms of poisoning are missed or ignored,
- no working CO alarm.
Typically CO occurs when flues are damaged; burners are faulty; there is blocked ventilation or a shortfall of air – fuels need the right amount of oxygen to burn safely
Early signs of poisoning include, headache and bad temper; feeling sick and dizzy; feeling tired and confused; stomach pains, being sick and these can quickly develop into more serious effects
Graham Watts, BSS manager, offered these tips to keep boaters safe when using gas appliances:
- Have all gas appliances and systems installed competently
- Have gas appliances checked and serviced routinely
- Use the equipment correctly
- Never block the ventilators, without a good oxygen supply CO can be produced
- Deal with any equipment problems immediately
- Don’t allow bodged repairs and maintenance
- Install a CO alarm certified to BS EN 50291-2
- Test the alarm routinely
- Never remove the batteries
- Know the signs of CO poisoning and how to react.
Fitters competent and registered to fit LPG systems on boats can be found easily on www.gassaferegister.co.uk by using the advanced search options to select LPG on boats.
‘Remember CO alarms only protect if they are working, they and/or their batteries should be replaced if they do not work when tested, or if the replacement date marked on the alarm has passed.’
Information on recognising the signs of CO poisoning and how to react; where to fit CO alarms and for the latest CO safety advice is available on www.boatsafetyscheme.org/co – Don’t let CO ruin your life.