What Creates Carbon Monoxide?
Burning hydrocarbons, plain and simple. Diesel, gasoline, propane – all are hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide (CO) is a natural by-product of burning them. You cannot tune your engine not to create CO. You can create CO-safe environments around and in your boat but you cannot defy the laws of chemistry.
Your engine doesn’t even have to be the one that is on. Your neighbor at the dock has his generator on to power the A/C and TV – and his exhaust is wafting into your cabin.
Also, it could be your engine but you think that you are immune because you haven’t enclosed your cockpit. You have only enclosed the windshield and side panel areas, leaving the aft wide open… well, called the “station wagon effect”, an area that is enclosed on 3 sides creates a vacuum behind it as it pushes ahead – and it is sucking CO into the “cup” it has created.
You are in that cup…
Even more tragic are the circumstances where (young?) boaters engage in “teak surfing”…
And the smell of it isn’t what is killing you. What you smell is unburned hydrocarbons. What you can’t smell is CO…
What is it and how do you know you are succumbing to it?
Carbon monoxide (CO) kills you by attaching itself to your blood cells in a way that keeps your blood from picking up fresh oxygen as it passes through your lungs. You essentially suffocate slowly while surrounded by air. Little by little, the CO hitches a ride on your blood cells until there are no seats left on the life-sustaining bus (your blood) for the oxygen to sit. As it happens, you start to get headaches, muscle aches, excessive fatigue and nausea. As I tell my seamanship students, “If you are starting to feel like you are coming down with the flu, but you don’t have the sniffles, get out of there! You may be dying of CO poisoning!”
What do you do now!
Say you enter your cruiser, and you find a crew man lying unconscious on the sole of the cabin. The manual actually says that you are first to try to isolate the source of the fumes, extinguish them and proceed to get your mate to fresh air (to start the cleansing cycle of kicking the CO’s out of their seats and replacing them with O’s!)