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Old 20-04-2020, 14:01   #1
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Beware of the CO in Covid

Beware of the CO in Covid!

If, like me, you are snugly self-isolated in your boat feeling well protected from the Corona virus, beware! Don’t get too smug!

One fine day a few years ago I crashed on the settee berth for an afternoon nap. I quickly drifted down to the brink of sinking deep into the muddy arms of Morpheus - but a tiny alarm buried deep in the murk of my mind said “Something is wrong”.

I was tempted to ignore it; sleep first, worry afterwards. But the niggle wouldn’t give up so I wearily dragged my body up to a sitting position. My brain cleared and enlightenment flooded in – Carbon Monoxide poisoning!

I had left a curry simmering on the stove. Carbon Monoxide (CO) from a burning stove is heavier than air and it had accumulated in the bottom of the boat, which was closed up with the airco on, and risen above the height of the bunk. It is colourless, odourless and deadly, and it sends you unsuspecting into an oxygen deprived one-way sleep. The CO molecules displace the oxygen molecules that the haemoglobin in your red blood cells normally transport round your body and your brain slows and dies of oxygen deprivation. Ironically Covid 19 virus is thought to also disrupt your haemoglobin and deprive you of oxygen in severe cases.

After eating the curry I wrote a piece about it for Caribbean Compass. A medical specialist followed up my article with some scary statistics of the large numbers of accidental deaths caused by CO poisoning. I made a personal rule to never ever again take a nap with the stove lit.
Recently I was preparing lunch when the fresh-water pump stopped working. My water tanks are under the settee berths and the pump is at one end of the port tank. I took off the cushions and lifted the plywood top to get at it. I was poking around in there with the test meter when my inspection lamp and the airco went off. Another shore-side power cut, a frequent occurrence in these parts.

I felt hot, frustrated, tired, discouraged and old. Now I had to try and fix the pump then cook food rather than heat up something in the microwave. Too much. I felt like the other make of battery in the Energiser Bunny advert. I gave up. I would have a snooze first and get back to it later after recharging my energy.
I couldn’t be bothered to put the settee back together so I crawled into the quarter berth. Ahh. I felt a bit better. But what’s that faint bubbling noise?
COliflower soup!

I had put some cauliflower stalks on to simmer before all this happened and forgotten about it. Was it a problem? It would probably be OK for 15 minutes of siesta time. But what if it boiled dry and then caught fire? I dragged myself out of the quarter berth, stood up, and suddenly understood; ”You bloody fool, it’s CO poisoning again!”

What is so scary is that I hadn’t realised that it was happening again. There was no niggly voice this time. The quarter berth is a couple of feet higher than the settee so the CO concentration was less there.
So please be paranoid about a lit stove in a closed-up boat. Or for that matter a leaky engine exhaust which is another dangerous CO source. Petrol engines usually have blowers sucking out the fumes but small diesels often don’t.

If you are somewhere where you can still buy such things a Carbon Monoxide Detector/, it is an inexpensive and good extra precaution so long as it is tested regularly, but it’s not a substitute for constant mental awarenes.

Safety is no accident!


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Enjoy the true sailing adventures “A Small Slip” and “Desperate Deliveries” by Cris Robinson,
available as ebooks and paperbacks on Amazon.
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Old 20-04-2020, 15:15   #2
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Actually, CO (@28) is a tad LIGHTER than air (@29), but by so little it mixes pretty darn well.

Still dangerous...

But like he said...Every boat with an engine of any kind or any non-electrical cooking appliance should have a CO detector.
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Old 21-04-2020, 05:52   #3
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Quote:
Originally Posted by SVHarmonie View Post
Actually, CO (@28) is a tad LIGHTER than air (@29), but by so little it mixes pretty darn well.

Still dangerous...

But like he said...Every boat with an engine of any kind or any non-electrical cooking appliance should have a CO detector.
COrrect, sorry my mistake.

However in both these cases there was an evident concentration of gas low down in the boat. I speculate;

1. Since the stove gases are hot they rise. For this reason I have a portlight open above the stove to let most of them out. But those which don't go out go up to the deckhead, get pulled into the roof mounted airco, cooled, and blasted down to the sole.


2. The stove gases also contain carbon dioxide CO2 which is much denser than air. CO2 is also dangerous as it sinks and displaces the air and its associated oxygen which you need to breath. Maybe it carries some CO mixed in along with it.

It could be a combination of both. The end result is the same, you only die once.








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Enjoy the true sailing stories "A Small Slip" and "Desperate Deliveries" by Cris Robinson available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.
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Old 21-04-2020, 06:10   #4
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

If you follow ABYC (or live in a state that has made the CO section state law), you are forced to buy precisely one manufacturer's product, an outrageously priced unit with a short lifespan.


I live in Maryland, where ABYC is simply a guideline. I use a Kidde (I think) combo unit (fire/CO) with a sealed 10-year battery for about 1/4 the cost. It's not conformal coated (so I don't mount it near open portlights, and test it often). There is also a rumor that marine units use a longer time-average to reduce spurious alarms, so mine might alarm earlier than appropriate (is that a problem?), but I think those distinctions have been merged.


I'm currently installing a hydronic diesel heater (Webasto-like) in the lazarette. I intend to install an additional combo unit there -- sure, it's hard to hear back there, but it will give advance notice of issues before it gets to the cabin.


Most sailboats are low-risk. Diesel engines produce VERY low CO levels (unlike gas engines which strive for perfect amount of air -- which is inadequate -- diesel engines have an air-rich mixture and burn completely). Few pleasure boats have heaters (bulkhead mount, central, whatever), and stoves aren't usually a problem. But as the OP has found, there is a risk and it is a real risk. One of my favorite childhood babysitters died while she was taking a shower on a sailboat (water heater? space heater? I forget the details).



Yes, yes, yes -- CO kills and a monitor is VERY cheap insurance! DO IT!
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Old 21-04-2020, 06:18   #5
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Amazing how people will take their boats out with no CO2 monitors/alarms.

And get two CO2 alarms !!!!!
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Old 21-04-2020, 06:29   #6
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

CO2 y’re sure?
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Old 21-04-2020, 06:44   #7
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

At the risk of being rude, if your stove is producing that much CO then there's something wrong with your stove. Doesn't matter the fuel, a properly adjusted stove burner should produce very little to zero CO. Only way to produce a lot is with a poor air-fuel mixture. If it's happened twice then I'd start with a very serious servicing of the stove.

Still a good idea to have CO detector(s), we have three, the one in the galley even displays the measured CO concentration. Never seen it move much off the baseline, even when simmering foods for hours.
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Old 21-04-2020, 06:55   #8
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

The first two days out of Fiji, I felt queesy and threw up, Sitting in the salon,

I dont get seasick, 30 Degrees Celcius, Must be the heat and I have sunstroke from sitting in the sun out the back on the hammock,
Im not sick out the back or in the cockpit, Only in the salon,
I cant smell diesel or diesel fumes, The motor is not running, I am under sail,

Nothing cooking, Then it twigged, Its the gas fridge, The fumes were filling the salon,
The CO2 sensor was disconnected by the PO as it was always chirping,
It had a plastic cover on the base stopping the fumes from flowing out into the cockpit, Where the fumes would blow away in the wind or go down the cockpit drains,
I removed that and had no further problems with it,
I now have a CO2 sensor in both the bases of my hulls,,
Never been sick since I did that,
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Old 21-04-2020, 09:33   #9
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

We are required to have a marine approved CO detector. I understand that it is somewhat less sensitive than the CO detector for your home. I also have a home detector in the boat. Even when I get a whiff of exhaust from a nearby boat, neither have gone off. They don't bother us in the least. Get one, or two, or more! They are cheap, especially compared to the alternative.
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Old 21-04-2020, 10:43   #10
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Quote:
Originally Posted by SVHarmonie View Post
Actually, CO (@28) is a tad LIGHTER than air (@29), but by so little it mixes pretty darn well.

Still dangerous...

But like he said...Every boat with an engine of any kind or any non-electrical cooking appliance should have a CO detector.
You're right. Pure CO is rare however, and most that we have to worry about has minute by-products of combustion that can put it anywhere in a confined space where we really don't want it to be...
As for the pot on the stove, I can only say that you are a better cook than me!
If I walk away from the stove for 60 seconds something boils over, burns, or blows up. I don't dare step farther away than the sink (1 foot) so no real worries about getting distracted. 'Simmer' is a concept I don't understand, it appears. My wife on the other hand - a chef - can put together a 4 course meal pretty much from nothing, nap in the cockpit, mask-up and clean the hull, rebuild the head (yuck) or service the windlass no problem, all why lunch 'simmers' in the galley. And it'll be perfect everytime.
She's the one I need to worry about.
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Old 21-04-2020, 11:04   #11
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr B View Post
The first two days out of Fiji, I felt queesy and threw up, Sitting in the salon,

I dont get seasick, 30 Degrees Celcius, Must be the heat and I have sunstroke from sitting in the sun out the back on the hammock,
Im not sick out the back or in the cockpit, Only in the salon,
I cant smell diesel or diesel fumes, The motor is not running, I am under sail,

Nothing cooking, Then it twigged, Its the gas fridge, The fumes were filling the salon,
The CO2 sensor was disconnected by the PO as it was always chirping,
It had a plastic cover on the base stopping the fumes from flowing out into the cockpit, Where the fumes would blow away in the wind or go down the cockpit drains,
I removed that and had no further problems with it,
I now have a CO2 sensor in both the bases of my hulls,,
Never been sick since I did that,
A minor point:

Molar mass of carbon monoxide: 28.010 g/mol.
The molar mass of dry air is 28.9647 g/mol.

So carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air. You may have been thinking of carbon dioxide which, since that molecule has one extra oxygen atom, is heavier than air.

So where's the best place for your CO monitor? Right next to where you sleep, at nose level. That's where I put mine.
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Old 21-04-2020, 11:14   #12
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

OP: Thanks for posting as we all need a safety reminder now and then. I have a CO/fire sensor on my boat. Still, I try to avoid situations that would lead to a build up of CO or a fire.
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Old 21-04-2020, 11:22   #13
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

The “always chirping” detector on my boat is/was the smoke detector. You can’t fry an egg without that thing chirping. It took me 2 years but then I decided to follow the same setup as the PO of my boat: ......no batteries.
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Old 21-04-2020, 11:35   #14
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailormed View Post
The “always chirping” detector on my boat is/was the smoke detector. You can’t fry an egg without that thing chirping. It took me 2 years but then I decided to follow the same setup as the PO of my boat: ......no batteries.
You are almost surely using the wrong type of smoke detector: one with an "ionization" sensor. Very prone to false alarms from any kind of flame appliance, useless in a kitchen or galley.

The photoelectric detector is really the only kind of detector that is usable in a boat where you are never very far from cooking.
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Old 22-04-2020, 03:40   #15
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Re: Beware of the CO in Covid

CO & CO2 are different gases. I agree with an earlier post that you are unlikely to be producing much CO from yr cooker, heater, or engine but most certainly all will produce CO2. Both gases cause an oxygen deprivation in the body but unless you happen to have a multi-gas sensor you will need to diferent sensors. A CO sensor is standard stuff and can be found for £25-40 ($30-45) but a CO2 sensor could cost 10x this so i doubt most boat owners have a CO2 sensor but paradoxically it is the latter which is just as important, if not more important, than a CO sensor.

I must admit that i can think of lots of other things i would like to spend my money on for the boat so i only have a smoke sensor and a CO sensor. Fortunately my boat has an opening port-light directly above the cooker to which i have also added a warning that it should be opened if using the cooker. At some point i will also be adding a propane/butane sensor but in Europe they are about £100-150 each
Andrew
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