Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

November 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

We moored our 30’ Revelcraft in Port Jefferson Harbor during the summer, and stored it in Ralph’s Fishing Station in Mount Sinai for the rest of the year. In anticipation of the boat’s hauling and winter prep, I put my yearly autumn transfer plan into action.

The day I chose seemed colder and windier than most. My young daughter would accompany me on the boat ride from Port Jefferson to Mount Sinai, where my wife would meet us with the car. The cold air seemed to rip right through us, so I thought it made sense to leave the boat covers on to keep us warmer.

While I would normally pilot from the bridge, the boat had a lower station that would be much more comfortable, especially with the insulating covers. As my daughter dashed into the cabin to play, I untied the mooring for the final time that season, my mind reflecting back on a wonderful summer.

Leaving Port Jefferson, we reached the entrance to the Long Island Sound and I accelerated to our cruising speed (the Revelcraft wasn’t a very fast boat, especially at the end of a season, but the wind was coming out of the west, pushing us along). With about 30 minutes to go, I was shivering, despite being bundled in my winter coat. Suddenly, my trembling was accompanied by a headache. I tried not to dwell on it, but the pounding in my head increased steadily.

As we drew closer to Mount Sinai, I called out to my daughter, but she didn’t answer. Though not alarmed, I slowed the boat so that I could check on her. I found her sleeping and not responsive. Though my thinking was jumbled, I was frightened because I couldn’t awaken my child, no matter how much I tried. I knew that I had to get her off the boat and get medical attention as fast as possible!

I stumbled back to the lower station and had enough presence of mind to open up the throttle and maneuver us towards the entrance to Mount Sinai Harbor. Ten excruciatingly long minutes later I finally came to Ralph’s dock. I pulled up, jumped out, and yelled to my waiting wife that something was  really wrong — I couldn’t wake our daughter up, and I was feeling quite disoriented myself!

She realized that we were likely suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. We hastily tied the boat up, carried our child’s limp body to the car, and drove to Mather Hospital with the windows wide open. As we approached the hospital, my headache started to ease and there was stirring in the back seat. We were quickly transported into the emergency room where a doctor confirmed that both of us had experienced life-threatening poisoning from carbon monoxide, a deadly gas produced by the burning of any carbon-based fuel. It is invisible, and has no taste or smell.

Sadly, what happened to us is not uncommon. It was akin to “the station wagon effect” in which exhaust seeps into a car through the open back window. In my case, the wind was bringing the exhaust back into the boat; over time, the odorless fumes found their way into the cabin where they quickly overcame my toddler. My focus on staying warm by keeping the covers on made the situation ripe for carbon monoxide poisoning, but people can be affected by fumes in non-covered boats while underway or even at anchor if a generator is running.  People are also vulnerable when hitching a ride off the swim platform or water-skiing less than 20 feet behind a moving vessel. Even if you’re doing everything properly on your boat to avoid poisoning, if you’re docked, beached, or anchored alongside another boat, everyone aboard may be vulnerable to carbon monoxide emissions from the neighboring boat.

I should have ensured that there was fresh air flowing into the boat, despite the cold and wind. I should have been more aware of the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, including the dull headache, weakness, dizziness, and queasiness, though by the time you start to experience these, you’re no longer thinking clearly. I should also have had two carbon monoxide detectors on board (both a 110-volt detector and a battery-operated one) — you can be sure that I was properly equipped the following summer!


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