Tip of the Week: How Boaters Can Avoid CO Poisoning

If you feel dizzy or nauseous while boating this summer, it may be more than just getting your sea legs or walking off one-too-many beers. Though such symptoms are commonly associated with seasickness or alcohol intoxication, they could actually signal a potentially life-threatening condition: carbon-monoxide (CO) poisoning. Boat motors, air conditioners and cooking grills often emit the colorless, odorless and tasteless fumes—gases that can induce sickness in seconds and cut off all oxygen from the lungs. To stay safe, keep yourself and your friends away from exhaust outlets, and don't swim near the back of the boat or under swim platforms. Also, purchase CO alarms for your vessel. Check once a month to make sure your equipment is in good condition and that there are no leaks in gas pipes. You can even get a free Vessel Safety Check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron volunteer organizations. Should you start to have irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness or dizziness, err on the safe side and treat it as CO poisoning instead of seasickness: move to a well-ventilated area, shut off any potential source of CO and air out enclosures. Don't exert yourself as that can expedite CO absorption, and most importantly, call for medical attention. In extreme situations, in which the victim stops breathing, perform CPR until help can arrive. For more on safe boating, go to the U.S. Coastguard Boating Safety Resource Center.