Carbon monoxide detector: security aboard

A sad case that could have been easily prevented by using the adequate measures: A 57-year-old man died on a charter boat in Dalmatia, five other passengers had to be taken to hospital in Split-Firule, some of them showing life threatening signs of toxicity and they had to be treated in the intensive care unit. It is particularly unfortunate that, in the first place, the people involved blamed spoiled mussels and shellfish they had eaten before in a restaurant in Hvar. Had there been a carbon monoxide detector on board, available for less than 50 Euros, just simple ventilation and a night on deck would have been sufficient.

What happened? According to first investigations by the public prosecutor’s office, there was a generator on board the charter yacht, equipped with an incorrectly fitted hose that obviously carried the highly toxic carbon monoxide into the inside of the boat.

Previously, the crew had gone out to have dinner at a hip restaurant in Hvar. When the first symptoms of poisoning in the form of nausea appeared, the blame was put on the allegedly spoiled shellfish consumed before and everyone went back to bed, thus leading to still more intake of the toxic carbon monoxide and lethal when taken as an overdose.

The alarmed rescue forces could only record the death of one crew member, further crew members were treated accordingly at the hospital. Nevertheless, the restaurant where the crew had had their dinner before could be entirely cleared of suspicion after a thorough inspection by the Croatian authorities.

And even if this is only one of the few known incidents of this kind on a boat, SeaHelp advises: One or more carbon monoxide detectors should be obligatory aboard every yacht. They are just the size of two adjacent cigarette packets and quite easy to mount. Their operating principle is fairly easy but effective: A sensor measures the ambient CO-content. Should the extreme value exceed the limit harmful to health, the detectors will set off the alarm unmistakably.

What makes it so special: when storing the yacht during the winter season, the sensor can be used in your own home. Should there be a fault with the home fireplace or heating and CO will emerge, the device will set off an indeed unmistakable warning.

And for all those who always want to go into things: electrochemical sensors made of tin dioxide alter their resistance when carbon monoxide flows by, as they will oxidise. At the same time, the conductivity of the sensors changes and an alarm (85 decibel) is set off. The detector should comply with standard EN 50291. According to this standard, an alarm is set off at the following quantities (data given in ppm = parts per million) and term of CO in the ambient air: 30 ppm/120 minutes, 50 ppm/60 to 90 minutes, 100 ppm/10 to 40 minutes, 300 ppm/less than 3 minutes.

The typical symptoms caused by the highly toxic, odourless, flavourless and invisible carbon monoxide are headache, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.

Those planning the purchase of such a device should opt for branded products such as, e.g., CO-detectors by Kidde which were already able to demonstrate their capacity during a test conducted by SeaHelp. Other manufacturers are, e.g., Abus or FireAngel.

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