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Houseboats and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Most people think of carbon monoxide poisoning as coming from automobile exhaust or faulty heating systems and indeed much of it does come from those sources. However, in the summer time houseboats can become a significant source of injury and death from this lethal poison gas.

Many houseboats are designed with gasoline powered generators in addition to the gasoline engines that run the boats. The generators are used to operate the air conditioning and lights on the boat. The generator is usually located below water level and emits exhaust out the side of the boat near the deck on the stern of the boat. Many deaths have occurred as a result of adults and children swimming in the area near or beneath the deck where they can be exposed to lethal concentrations of carbon monoxide in less than a minute. Renters of houseboats have also been poisoned inside the boat while sleeping with the air conditioner on.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Park Service have investigated deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide coming from houseboats. Strong recommendations were that the design of new boats be changed and that existing boats be retrofitted to carry the generator exhaust through a stack on the top of the boat and to utilize highly efficient engines. NIOSH has indicated that its studies show that over 90% of the deaths and illnesses attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning on houseboats could be avoided by retrofitting these boats for the safety of users.

Companies renting boats to consumers know or certainly should know of the dangerous propensities of these boats and should have them retrofitted for safety. They should also supply each boat with a functioning carbon monoxide detector, preferably one with a digital readout. Warnings about the dangers of carbon monoxide should be supplied to all users of these boats.