On October 11, 2015, in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, tragedy struck a family boating on Lake Minnetonka, one of the state’s most popular recreational lakes. 7-year-old Sophia Baechler died on her family’s boat as a result of carbon monoxide poising. Apparently, a muskrat chewed a hole in the exhaust pipe allowing carbon monoxide to leak into the boat.
All family members were affected by the gas, however, little Sophia expired when she went below deck to rest, due to a headache. Only seven minutes had passed when her father found her. Despite Dr. Baechler’s attempts to save his daughter with CPR, she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
This great misfortune caused Sophia’s parents, both doctors, to lobby the Minnesota legislature to pass a bill mandating that CO detectors be installed in boats. The bill passed in April of 2016 and is the first of its kind in the nation.
THE NEED FOR CARBON MONOXIDE MONITORS IN BOATS
It may not be readily obvious why carbon monoxide monitors are needed in boats, however, there have been many deaths due to CO poisoning in boats over the years. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Coast Guard investigated CO emissions at Utah’s Lake Powell, in August of 2000. The investigation looked at years 1990 through 2000 and revealed 110 carbon monoxide poisonings. Since that report came out, according to NIOSH over 35 states have reported carbon monoxide poisonings in or around boats. The figures indicate upwards of 800, with over 140 ending in death.
While it may seem CO fumes are only responsible for problems in enclosed areas, such as below deck, as in the case of Sophia Baechler, those spaces are not the only places CO poisoning can occur. People have gotten sick while tubing, 20 feet behind a boat. Sitting on the rear swim deck while the motor is running can lead to CO poisoning as well. Any time exhaust builds up, or a person is subjected to breathing the exhaust, as in the case of riding or skiing behind a boat, there is a chance that CO poisoning could be an issue.
ACCEPTABLE CO DETECTORS
Not every carbon monoxide monitor is suitable for watercraft. Since 2002, many boat manufacturers have been installing CO detectors as a standard practice. Older boats may not have the monitors. Portable, battery-operated CO detectors are not recommended for marine use. Hardwired detectors are preferable. Marine CO detectors have an end-of-life requirement, which means you will hear a chirp or strange buzz when the device has reached the end of its usefulness. This safety feature is built in to provide the highest standard of functionality in alerting you to the presence of carbon monoxide.
If you have questions about boating safety, feel free to call the lawyers at the law firm of Frohlich, Gordon & Beason, P.A. Serving the Port Charlotte and surrounding areas with all your legal needs, we provide free initial consultations with attorneys who care.