Centre for Maritime Safety


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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas produced through the burning of carbon-based fuels (e.g. petrol, gas or oil).

Boaters need to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide and take precautions to ensure their vessel is well-ventilated at all times.

Most vessels contain a range of equipment that can produce carbon monoxide including engines, generators, cooking equipment and space or water heaters.

Prolonged exposure to a low concentration of carbon monoxide - or rapid exposure to a high concentration - can be fatal.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to seasickness or alcohol intoxication. Early symptoms include headaches, nausea, eye irritation, weakness or dizziness.

If you notice these symptoms in someone else aboard a vessel, ensure they are exposed to fresh air and seek urgent medical attention.

Symptoms can progress quickly, and those affected by carbon monoxide poisoning can collapse or lose consciousness. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in a fatality.

How to minimise the risks of carbon monoxide when boating

  1. Know where the carbon monoxide exhaust outlets are and ensure they are properly vented away from living areas. Keep forward-facing hatches open to allow fresh air to circulate.
  2. Avoid inhaling emissions from exhaust outlets by ensuring your vessel is well-ventilated. Where possible, operate your vessel so that prevailing winds help disperse exhaust emissions. Avoid the effects of backdrafting and be mindful of tailwinds when operating a vessel at low speeds.
  3. Install a carbon monoxide detector alarm in your vessel and regularly test its proper functioning.
  4. Passengers should avoid using the rear deck and swimming platform when engines are running. It is recommended that passengers do not use these areas until the engine or generator has been switched off for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Avoid sitting on the swimming platform of an operating boat or “teak surf” (body surfing behind a vessel) as this can lead to the rapid inhalation of carbon monoxide.
  6. When being towed behind a vessel (e.g. wakeboarding, waterskiing or aquaplaning), keep a distance of at least 7 metres behind the vessel at all times.
  7. Exhausts from a nearby stationary vessel (e.g. docked or anchored boat) can emit carbon monoxide into the cabin or cockpit of your boat. Always maintain a distance of at least 6 metres from the nearest vessel that has a running engine or generator. When idling or travelling at low speeds, also maintain a distance of at least 6 metres from the nearest vessel that is running an engine or generator.
  8. Avoid leaving your engine or generator running while your vessel is moored as carbon monoxide can infiltrate the cabin.
  9. Regularly check your vessel’s exhaust system(s) for signs of a leak. Common signs include rust, black streaking, water leaks or cracked fittings. Ensure that all exhaust clamps are in place and secure, and that exhaust hoses are in good working condition.
  10. Poorly-tuned engines generate more carbon monoxide. Schedule regular maintenance inspections for your engine and exhaust system(s) with trained marine technicians.