NABO comments on MAIB report on Love for Lydia fatality due to CO poisoning.
NABO has considered its position on the whole question carbon monoxide (CO) alarms becoming a mandatory requirement under the Boat Safety Scheme. In May 2017 the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) issued its final report on the event, and their investigations. A key recommendation is that BSS examinations should include a check for working CO alarm(s).
NABO is in full support of the recommendation. NABO Council met in April 2017 and unanimously agreed that the Association should support the requirement.
The use of CO alarms has long been a recommendation of BSS, Emergency Services and many reputable organisations, but there is no requirement currently for them to be fitted and working even in new boats. This is in contrast to caravans and motor homes, where the they are required in new builds. New homes also require them to be fitted, and major domestic gas appliance servicers supply them as part of their service provision.
Many of the land based domestic accidents are caused by poor installation or lack of maintenance. These are also known factors on the water, but other causes such as misuse of appliances both deliberate and through ignorance, have occurred in the past. In the case of Love for Lydia, none of these applied. The boat was in good condition, but a combination of weather and circumstance combined to allow CO from the petrol engine exhaust to enter the poorly ventilated boat, with devastating consequences.
This case highlights and provides evidence of particular risks for boaters. Petrol engines (including small generators) and solid fuel stoves are a source of CO in such concentration that the exhaust or chimney vapours have the potential to kill if they accumulate. CO is heavier than air and can accumulate in hull spaces. (Diesel engines and space heaters also generate some CO but this is generally at a lower concentration, but long term effects are an issue.)
There is currently no compulsory BSS ventilation requirement for private boats. The BSS check is advisory, and NABO understands that examiners often finding vents blocked presumably to avoid drafts. The BSS ventilation check is one of the most frequently failed checks.
There is anecdotal evidence from experienced boaters who have observed that smoke and engine/generator fumes from adjacent (or their own craft) can penetrate into cabin spaces, blown by the wind through open top flap windows. The simple fix has always been to close the window on the upwind side. Now with indisputable evidence of fatal levels of CO in boats, however special the circumstances, the time has now come to make these inexpensive and reliable items a compulsory requirement. Boaters die every year, and we can no long sit back and say this requirement is not needed. We are the people at risk.
NABO commends the long-term campaign of BSS and Emergency services to persuade boaters to use these items. This must continue, because it is not enough to have a working alarm on the day of the BSS examination. The job is still to convince every boat user that the alarms are working every hour of every day, and that ventilation is needed and unblocked. You cannot control what boat will be next to you, the direction of wind, and the exhaust emissions that may come your way.
There is lots of help and information on CO on the BSS web site, including 10 tips to keep you and your crew alive.