Boaters urged to combat carbon monoxide in light of MAIB report findings
The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has today published its report following an investigation into the fatal accident which occurred on board the motor cruiserVasquez.
On 12 November 2016, the owner of the 7.75m motor cruiser Vasquez fell unconscious after being overcome by carbon monoxide (CO) that had been emitted from his boat’s inboard petrol engine. Although rescuers came to his aid and conducted cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, it was not possible to save his life. Two of the rescuers had to be treated for the effects of CO poisoning following the accident.
The CO was found to have originated from the rubber bellows of the wet-exhaust system of the engine, which was not only leaking exhaust fumes but also water. The boat’s engine had not been regularly serviced, and evidence revealed that the exhaust system of the engine had been modified during the boat’s life.
Tragically, Vasquez’s 72-year-old owner Ray Milton died from CO poisoning because, without a CO detector/alarm being fitted to his boat, he was unaware that CO from his boat’s engine exhaust was entering the cockpit and cabin area.
Get wise, get alarmed, get out
The MAIB report noted that recreational craft not registered for use on inland waterways, such as Vasquez and numerous others operating around the UK coast, are not required to fit a CO detector/alarm.
The message however is quite clear, understand the dangers of carbon monoxide and fit an alarm that complies with BS EN50291-2:2010. If the alarm sounds, get out of the boat and into the fresh air immediately – get wise, get alarmed, and get out!
There is a common misconception that CO detectors/alarms used in the marine environment are prone to false alarms. This is rarely the case. If the alarm sounds it will be because CO is present.
CO alarms must sound at relatively low concentrations to provide enough warning for effective remedial action to be taken. CO detectors/alarms intended for recreational craft are tested to a rigorous standard (EN 50291-2), which should reassure boat owners that when a CO alarm sounds, suitable action must be taken.
Know the symptoms
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which is produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. Often dubbed the ‘Silent Killer’, it can kill quickly if inhaled in high concentrations.
At low concentration levels of CO, the symptoms of poisoning are similar to flu or food poisoning. Headaches, nausea and dizziness are common. As the concentration of CO increases, you may suffer chest pains and breathlessness leading to seizure or unconsciousness. If the levels are high enough, CO will kill you.
The MAIB report also highlighted the importance of seeking professional advice and regularly servicing a boat’s engine, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, to ensure it remains reliable and safe to use.
The RYA offers an extensive range of training courses and provides guidance on various aspects of boating to educate boat owners on how to stay safe when afloat. It is important, however, to appreciate the extent of one’s knowledge when it comes to self-maintenance of a boat, particularly with regard to its engine, and when professional advice should be sought.
Regular engine servicing in accordance with the engine manufacturer’s guidelines should ensure an engine remains reliable and safe to use.
Most engine problems can be avoided by taking simple precautions which do not require detailed mechanical knowledge or training. The RYA Diesel Maintenance Course is designed to help you look after your boat and to give you the confidence to become more self-reliant. The course teaches you how your engine works, basic checks and maintenance procedures, and how to get it started again in the event of a breakdown. Whether you sail a yacht with an auxiliary diesel engine or are a motor cruising enthusiast, the course could not just save you money, but one day could save your life.
That said, even a properly maintained engine can still emit significant quantities of CO from its exhaust – as demonstrated in the Love for Lydia accident. Simply mooring near a motor boat with its engine running can expose the crew to CO. A suitable CO detector/alarm is the only effective way to be warned of the presence of the gas.
Given the recommendations issued following the MAIB’s recent Love for Lydia investigation, no further recommendations were made in the Vasquez report, however the RYA has today reaffirmed its commitment to raising awareness of the dangers of CO in the recreational boating community.
Stuart Carruthers, RYA Cruising Manager, said: “Despite our considerable and continued efforts to raise awareness of this life-threatening issue, it is evident that there remains a significant task to raise boat owners’ levels of understanding about the dangers of CO.
“Due to the odourless nature of this silent killer, the fitting of a CO alarm remains the only effective warning that the poisonous gas is present. Our advice is to get wise, get alarmed and get out.
“Unfortunately, when trying to keep warm while inside a recreational craft, the natural tendency is to try to limit draughts. This will only help with the build-up of CO and is further justification for fitting a CO detector.
“Once warned of the presence of the gas, steps can be taken to reduce its concentration by removing the source and by increasing ventilation.
“Finally, it’s worth remembering that even if you do not have anything on your boat that might produce Carbon Monoxide, you are not immune from CO sources nearby. There may be a petrol engine at idle up wind of your mooring.”