Photo – © Julian Claxton


21 to 27 November 2022 is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, reminding boaters of the dangers that the ‘silent killer’ Carbon monoxide (CO) poses during the cold winter months.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is always an issue that boaters should be aware of, however poisoning is more prevalent in the winter months as boaters run their engines to power heating and other appliances. CO is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste, making it particularly deadly and hard to detect without a working alarm.

There have been a number of widely publicised, CO-related deaths in the boating community in the last twenty years, so we recommend familiarising yourself with the dangers it presents, the signs of poisoning and the steps you can take to keep yourself and your crew safe.

The Authority recommends having at least one suitable working CO alarm aboard and to follow these tips:

All the crew should know the symptomsof CO poisoning and how to react if it is suspected
Install fuel burning appliances properly, in-line with makers directions and refrain from cutting corners
Follow servicing guidelines; maintenance should be routine and competent – Don’t allow bodged repairs, adjustments and adaptations
Always use appliances as per their instructions and never use cookers for space heating
Don’t block ventilation– appliance fuels like gas, coal, wood, oil, paraffin, etc. need sufficient air to burn safely
Don’t bring charcoal BBQson board, or have them near a cabin during or after use – only stone-cold charcoal is safe
Keep engine fumes out of the cabin space, never use a portable generatorin or near a cabin
Learn about the danger signs, spot potential hazardsbefore CO occurs
Deal with problems immediately, never use equipment you suspect has problems
Install at least one certified CO alarm (BS EN 50291-2), test it routinely and never remove the batteries
If you experience a sudden onset headache and feel lethargic, get into fresh air immediately and call 999 if symptoms do not subside
Regarding CO Awareness Week, Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) Chief Inspector Captain Andrew Moll OBE said,

“With winter upon us and fuel prices still high, boat users may be tempted to keep doors and windows closed to stay warm and reduce drafts. However, carbon monoxide can build up when engines idle in enclosed areas, such as against quay walls, next to other boats or inside locks. Adequate ventilation is an important way of protecting against the potential accumulation of poisonous fumes in cabins.

“Carbon monoxide alarms are readily available, inexpensive and easy to install. This potentially lifesaving equipment will alert the boat user to the presence of this odourless, colourless poisonous gas so that action can be taken.”

The early symptoms of CO poisoning can be masked or mistaken for colds, flu or COVID-19. Victims might suffer headaches, mood changes; feel sick and dizzy; or be tired and confused, some may have stomach pains and start vomiting. More serious affects can quickly develop such as loss of balance, difficulty breathing or controlling limbs and eventually unconsciousness.

Lucy Burchnall, Broads Authority Head of Ranger Services added,

“We welcome the MAIB’s efforts to raise awareness of the dangers presented by Carbon monoxide poisoning this winter.

Whether you are living aboard your boat or just taking it out for a day cruise over the winter period, we really urge you to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of CO poisoning and the steps you can take to keep yourself safe, including ventilation and installing a working alarm. It might just save your life.”