SMART4SEA Conference & Awards
2018
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SMART4SEA Conference & Awards
2018
Learn More

CO poisoning onboard motor cruiser leads to fatality

poisoning
Vasquez motor cruise / Credit: UK MAIB

UK MAIB issued an investigation report, concerning the fatal CO poisoning of a man on board motor cruiser Vasquez, while moored at Cardiff Yacht Club, in November 2016.

On 12 November 2016, the owner of the 7.75m motor cruiser Vasquez fell unconscious after being overcome by carbon monoxide (CO) that had been emitted from failed rubber bellows that formed part of the inboard engine’s wet-exhaust system. Although rescuers came to his aid, it was not possible to save his life. The boat’s engine had not been regularly serviced and there was evidence that the exhaust system of the engine had been modified during the boat’s life.

The incident

During the morning of 12 November 2016, Ray Milton travelled to Cardiff Yacht Club to check on his motor cruiser Vasquez, which was moored in the marina and he had arranged to meet a friend at the club that morning.

At approximately 1120, Ray’s friend walked down to where Vasquez was moored stern-to. He stepped onto the starboard bathing platform and leaned into the cockpit canopy, which was unzipped on the starboard side. Ray was sitting at the helm position and the aft foor area had been lifted to give access to the engine bay. There was water in the bilge and Ray was running the electric bilge pump to clear it. There was also water in the cabin, which was unusual.

Once the water level was below the starter motor of the engine, Ray wanted to see if the engine would start. He turned the ignition key and the engine started successfully. The friend suggested putting the engine in gear ahead while still moored so that the boat’s bow would lift slightly and allow the water in the cabin to run aft into the engine bay bilge, where it could be pumped out easily. Ray followed this suggestion and water was seen to be running aft and being successfully pumped out by the electric bilge pump.

About 10-15 minutes after arriving, the friend left and he asked Ray to take the engine out of gear so that he could step back onto the pontoon. He expected to catch up with Ray later in the clubhouse. After the friend had stepped onto the pontoon, Ray re-engaged the engine and at some stage replaced the cockpit fooring above the engine bay.

At 1210, as he walked to the clubhouse, the friend called Ray on his mobile phone; there was no reply. He assumed Ray was busy and would ring back. He entered the clubhouse and ordered a drink at the bar. Approximately 30 minutes later, he tried calling Ray again, but still there was no reply. At 1242, he called another club member whom he knew was on a boat near Vasquez and asked him to check on Ray.

When the other club member reached Vasquez he found the engine still running ahead, but there was no sign of Ray. With the assistance of another club member, who was an off-duty frefghter and happened to be nearby, he managed to pull the stern lines in suffciently so that they could step onto the aft bathing platforms. Initially there was no sign of Ray, but they then saw a foot next to the helm.

Safety Issues

  • There still remains a significant task to raise boat owners’ awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide in recreational boating sector.
  • Due to the odourless nature of carbon monoxide, the fitting of a detector/alarm remains the only effective warning that the poisonous gas may be present.
  • It is important to seek professional advice and regularly service a boat’s engine, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, to ensure it remains reliable and safe to use.

Conclusions

  • Ray Milton died from CO poisoning because, without a CO detector/alarm being ftted to his boat, he was unaware that CO from his boat’s engine exhaust was emitting into the cockpit and cabin area.
  • Given the recent fatal accidents from CO poisoning on recreational craft, there remains a signifcant task for the various stakeholders of the industry to assist in raising CO awareness.
  • Given CO’s odourless nature, the ftting of a CO detector/alarm remains the only effective warning against being poisoned by the gas.
  • CO detectors/alarms intended for recreational craft are tested to a rigorous standard, which should reassure boat owners that when a CO alarm sounds, suitable action needs to be taken immediately.
  • It is important to seek professional advice and regularly service a boat’s engine, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, to ensure it remains reliable and safe to use.

Further information may be found in the following report:

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