They wanted to recharge shipboard batteries, died from poisoning


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Each year in the United Kingdom, the “Safety Digest,” a volume edited by “The Marine Accident Investigation Branch,” a government agency that is authorized to investigate accidents at sea and use them as the basis for safety lessons, is circulated.

Many of the cases discussed, which really happened around the world, involve recreational boating: the one we are telling you about is really strange. But it happened (this is case number 24, reported HERE).


A motor boat has been moored on a dock for too long. The owner of a nearby hull, alerted by the absence of activity on board (usually the boat is very “busy”), decides to check that all is well. Try asking loudly if anyone is on board, nothing. Tap on hardtop, no response. He peers through the windows and notices a person lying motionless on one of the beds in the forward cabin.

The shipowner immediately calls for assistance from a passing barge and another yachtsman moored nearby. The two board in the aft area, which is protected by a large cover/tent (see opening photo): they see a woman and a dog on the forward bed and a man slumped in the square just below the steps.

They call for help but there is nothing they can do; they are all dead. Autopsy examination shows the cause of death to be carbon monoxide poisoning.


What happened? The unfortunate boaters were probably charging the batteries using the engine, and the carbon monoxide fumes (colorless and odorless therefore very dangerous), assuming the wind was coming from the stern of the boat, entered through the holes in the cover, ending up even below deck and causing the poisoning (see photo above).

Photos taken from

This bad story teaches us that exhaust fumes can enter a boat at any time.
And not just when the boat is stationary: they call it the “station wagon effect.” At low speeds and when idling, monoxide can build up in the cockpit or cabins (see photo at left).

In addition, gases can build up even at higher speeds if the bow angle is high (so the boat is not well “flat” on the water, see photo at right), if there is any opening in the stern that “draws” the fumes in, or if you are sailing with protective covers in the cockpit.

Thus, prevention is better than cure.

It is necessary to make sure that squares and cabins are well ventilated when the engine is running.

In addition, it would be a good idea to have an alarm sensor (perhaps one of those provided by remote monitoring systems, such as the Dokensip, the Siren Marine or Sentinel, the C-Pod for example, or a dedicated one like the one from St. George Sein) smoke and gas installed below deck: and before turning on the engine, check that the sensor is working, following the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Try, if possible, not to stay on board if your neighbor’s boat has its engine running, ditto in the roadstead: in this case move farther away. The fumes could reach you (see photo)

Finally, it is good to know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: the most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO poisoning can also make you faint and fall into water and drown. A person who is sleeping and inhales large amounts of carbon monoxide can go from sleep to death without realizing it. (E.R.)


Here are the 10 most common boating accidents (and how to avoid them)


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