I invited four of our recent America’s Boating Course (ABC) class to meet on my boat S/V Ecco Bella, in Marina 4, to take the final exam that they were unable to take with the rest of the class due to unavoidable circumstances. I set them up below in the main cabin, on the fold-down saloon dining table, to take the test. While they toiled away on the test I moved out to the cockpit and passed the time reading over some of the ABC material.
Of note is that the fairway between our Finger B and Finger A is about 80 feet wide. Our slip is a downwind slip, so since we normally dock bow-in our stern faces the fairway, while boats across us on Finger A are upwind slips so their sterns typically face our stern. The typical afternoon breeze is from Finger A to Finger B so a boat across the fairway that was running their engine had the exhaust spewing out their stern and the breeze picked it up and sent it over to my cockpit. It was a bit annoying to smell the exhaust but, hey, it was 80 feet or more away and didn’t seem too bad.
After a while one of the students came out from below and into the cockpit to give me their exam so I could grade it. He commented on the smell from across the way. After I finished grading his exam we were sitting and chatting in the cockpit when I heard a “beep” come from down below, in the cabin, where the other students were still working on their exams. One of them spoke up and said “something is beeping down here”. I went below thinking, is it the carbon monoxide detector? It was sitting at the edge of the table where they were working. Sure enough it sounded again. Holy cow, I was poisoning my students! I quickly opened the main hatch above the table they were at, opened a couple of side ports, and turned on four fans in the saloon to circulate the air while they finished working. They all felt fine, they said, and were able to finish up their exams, which they all passed – thank goodness.
What went wrong? It wasn’t very warm so I neglected to open any hatches or ports to air out the cabin. While slightly annoying to smell the exhaust I didn’t think much of it. Besides being in the cockpit the exhaust gas was apparently flowing down into the cabin through the open cockpit hatch, and with no way out, other than a small exhaust fan up on the bow that runs all the time, was accumulating in the saloon. Luckily that’s where I had the CO detector, within a couple of feet of where the students were, and it did its thing before anyone got sick or worse.
With apologizes to my students for not recognizing an apparent danger to them, and I guess to me too, I think we can all learn from this. It’s a bit ironic that part of the ABC curriculum that these students just went through covers the danger associated with boating and carbon monoxide, but I think many of us are more concerned with possible exhaust leaks inside the boat from our own exhaust hoses or the danger of “teak surfing” (hanging in the water off a swim platform at the back of a boat) while moving, and being around our own exhaust at the stern of the boat; we must also be aware of it coming into the cabin from our own boat or others near us. Lastly, this was the first time the CO detector sounded for us on our boat, and I’m glad it worked as advertised – if you don’t have one on your boat consider getting one.