Please select your home edition
Pantaenius FBW Comprehensive 728x90

Lessons Learnt: Invisible poison

by Maritime Safety Victoria 1 Nov 2019 12:15 UTC
Yarra River © Maritime Safety Victoria

A group of boaters on the Yarra River suddenly found themselves feeling nauseous and struggling to think clearly.

On the eve of Grand Final Friday in 2019 an enthusiastic owner prepared his 42ft sports cruiser for a trip up the Yarra and an overnight stay on board. While transiting up the bay, the weather was reasonable and the team on board enjoyed canapes and hors d'oeuvres in the shelter of the aft-facing cockpit.

With late afternoon approaching tried to increase speed passing Sandringham Yacht Club, but found that an oil pressure alarm restricted one motor to 1000rpm. This limited their speed and with both motors at 1000rpm, they continued up the bay and into the Yarra at around 10-12 knots.

As they neared Station Pier, the owner began to feel nauseous and started to throw up over the transom. While he was incapacitated, another man took over the helm and the owner's wife went to open the forward hatch to let some fresh air into the saloon downstairs. While downstairs, she was overcome by the atmosphere and had to be assisted back up to the cockpit deck.

The man now at the helm was also feeling queasy and collapsed when he stood up to stick his head out the sun hatch in the cockpit roof. The fourth person was feeling light headed and queasy while sitting on the settee in the cockpit area.

The owner phoned his friends ahead at their intended destination to let them know that they would need assistance to berth and medical assistance. Upon arriving a number of those on board collapsed on the dock alongside the boat and were administered oxygen by the attending emergency services. They were then conveyed to hospital in a fleet of ambulances and treated with oxygen therapy overnight.

What went wrong

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) from the engines operating at low speeds directly affected all on board. The 'limp' mode of the engine increased the fuel:air mix being introduced to the engine.
  • CO accumulated in the aft-facing cockpit as well as the below-deck accommodation.
  • All on board were unable to think clearly and at different stages were rendered unconscious or near unconscious.
  • Petrol inboard powered vessels are more likely to produce CO in sufficient concentrations on board to affect health.
Lessons Learnt
  • Install a CO alarm: It will indicate raised levels of CO in any living space. An alarm fitted at the helm and in the downstairs accommodation should provide an early warning.
  • Improve ventilation: Being aware of the need for ventilation of vessels powered by inboard petrol engines is an important factor for owners and operators to share with passengers.
Read MSV's Safety Alert: CO poisoning

Related Articles

Could you get back on board if you fell overboard?
Watch this video to see just how hard it is! If you end up in the water unexpectedly, your best chance of survival is to get out of the water as quickly as possible. Posted on 26 Dec 2020
Thinking of going offshore fishing in Victoria?
Vanessa gets some helpful tips from offshore fisher John Vanessa gets some helpful tips from offshore fisher John on everything you should do before heading out. Posted on 23 Dec 2020
Get onboard with beacons
Maritime Safety Victoria is urging boaters to carry a distress beacon Throughout February, Maritime Safety Victoria is urging boaters to carry a distress beacon as part of our 'Prepare to survive' campaign. Posted on 9 Feb 2020
Learn how to cross a bar
One of the most dangerous boating activities Two fishers were ejected from their boat crossing Barwon Heads in January. Always consider how to cross bars and Port Phillip Heads at the best time. Avoid low tide, at the end of an ebb with a swell running which can produce breaking waves. Posted on 7 Feb 2020
An empty boat ramp car park may be a warning
What does it mean if the car park at a boat ramp is empty? It could mean everyone has checked the weather and decided it is too dangerous to go out. Posted on 2 Nov 2019
Safety Warning: Check your sealed decks
Unseen issues can cause capsizes Maritime Safety Victoria (MSV) technical experts outline the features of sealed decks and how they should work. If you have a small boat with a deck that is intended to be watertight, there are a number of issues to look out for. Posted on 28 Mar 2019
Lessons Learnt: Lock in a buddy plan
Watch and read about Victorian boater Josh's experience Victorian boater Josh was adjusting his fishing rods when he suddenly found himself in the water, watching in disbelief as his boat motored away from him. Posted on 28 Mar 2019
Safety Alert: Navigation lights
TSV and Victoria Police are encountering vessels that have lights installed incorrectly There have been recent collisions directly attributable to the incorrect placement of navigation lights and /or vessels displaying navigation lights that do not comply with the Marine Safety Regulations 2012 (Vic) (MSR). Posted on 14 Feb 2019
Look out for changing conditions
A rapid drop in temperature can drastically alter conditions on the water This summer, Victoria has experienced a series of hot, dry days followed by a rapid cool change. These are conditions that create periods of high fire danger on land, but can also result in a serious risk to vessel operators. Posted on 14 Feb 2019
Engine pod breaks from transom
Highlighting the importance of thorough boat maintenance A couple of keen fishers were heading home after a morning on the water when the outboard motor pod failed, slewing the motor to the starboard side and spinning the boat 180 degrees. Posted on 21 Jan 2019
Marina Exchange FOOTER 138 South - Merry Fisher 795 Series - FOOTERSea Sure 2020 - SHOCK-WBV - FOOTER