Carbon Monoxide Detectors for Boating

Anytime you are on or near a boat when an internal combustion engine is being used, you are at risk of being exposed to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. This could be from an inboard or outboard engine while idling or under way, a generator, or even another boat near you with an engine running. Also, if you have any heaters, stoves, or appliances that burn any type of fuel, they may expose you to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is a serious problem, and many people every year are killed by CO poisoning while boating.

There are two situations on boats that determine the type of carbon monoxide detector you will need.  The first is when you are outside in “clean” air, in an open boat, on deck, or in the water.  The second is when you are in an enclosed cabin on a boat.  Each situation has slightly different requirements.


Using a Carbon Monoxide Detector Outside

Anytime you are in an open boat, on deck on a larger enclosed boat, or even swimming off the stern of a boat, you could be exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide if some motor or engine is running, even if it is on someone else’s boat. Most people think they are safe in the open air, but the statistics do not support such confidence. Many deaths each year are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, directly and indirectly (by drowning), from people who were in open air on or around a boat.

When boats are underway, they often will “drag” their exhaust behind them, so CO levels near exhaust discharges can be very unsafe, even while the boat is moving. Also, many boaters like to tie their boats together in a flotilla, and if the engines are left running, the CO levels can become dangerous.

Because they operate on water, boats present a challenge in detecting and alarming about carbon monoxide. There is always the possibility that the CO detector will get wet, and the high humidity can also interfere with detector performance. So, for this application, we recommend the Sensorcon CO Inspector.

Sensorcon CO Inspector

Sensorcon CO Inspector

In addition to its other virtues, the electronics are waterproof, and it can operate at up to 99% relative humidity intermittently. You must keep water away from its sensor port, but it is by far the best product for this environment. You can also get a tube that plugs into the sensor port that enables you to measure CO levels in places it would be difficult to reach with the instrument itself, such as near the swim platform on the stern of your boat.

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Using a Carbon Monoxide Detector Inside the Cabin

Inside the cabin on a boat is an environment very similar to a home, so it seems that any carbon monoxide detector would work.  However, the conditions found on a boat make many detectors unsuitable.  In fact, the UL/CSA have additional requirements that detectors have to meet in order to be approved for boat use.  These include vibration, cooking fumes, humidity, salt spray, and corrosion.

There is another difference on boats that is equally important. If you experience a rising carbon monoxide level while you’re in your house, you can always leave your house with relative ease and escape the CO. On a boat, this is obviously not so easy, so the earlier you can be warned of the problem, the sooner you can take action to resolve it. For this reason, we highly recommend a low level carbon monoxide detector for boats. You may want or need more than one if you have a larger boat.

The Defender LL6070 low-level carbon monoxide detector is designed for residential use only, so the detectors we recommend are two portable ones.  Either of them will do a fine job.

 Sensorcon CO InspectorSensorcon CO Inspector

This is the same detector we recommended above, and if you decide to buy one, it can be used anywhere on your boat. Just remember to have it with you at all times. A detector does little good if it is not sensing the air you’re breathing.

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Pocket CO DetectorPocket CO with keys

This tiny, portable low-level carbon monoxide detector is a serious entry into the market. Its small size and weight make it ideal for use in travel – driving, flying, going anywhere. It can be attached to a set of keys or clipped on your clothing. Despite its name, it is not designed to be used in your pocket. It needs to be exposed to the air you breathe to work as intended. It does need to be calibrated once per year, or returned to the factory for a full refurbishment. A handy, unobtrusive, vigilant device that works well.

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