COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is warning everyone about the hidden dangers that can occur during a day on the lake, stream, or river. Carbon monoxide poisoning and propeller strikes pose unseen risks for boaters
“These hazards are especially dangerous because people can’t see them coming,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “We have unfortunately had several recent incidents where carbon monoxide led to tragedy. It’s situations like those that make us realize how safe we really need to be and we want to help people prepare for that.”
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, making it hard to detect. According to the most recent data from the Coast Guard it affected 31 people aboard boats, and of those people, five of them died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2019.
“Every year we see deaths caused by carbon monoxide on boats and it’s truly tragic,” said Captain Schaad Johnson of ODNR’s Division of Parks and Watercreaft. “These losses are often preventable if boaters are cautious and keep themselves and their children away from the dangerous exhaust coming from a boat’s engine.”
Boaters should check that their vessel has carbon monoxide detectors. The CDC recommends taking several other precautions to help prevent a carbon monoxide buildup on your vessel:
Properly install and maintain all fuel-burning engines and appliances.
Educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning.
Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust.
Watch children closely when they play on rear swim decks or water platforms.
Never block exhaust outlets. Blocking outlets can cause CO to build up in the cabin and cockpit areas–even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed.
Dock, beach, or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. Exhaust from a nearby vessel can send CO into the cabin and cockpit of a boat.
Another danger boaters may not think about is a propeller strike beneath the water’s surface. A typical recreational propeller can travel from head to toe on an average person in less than one-tenth of a second. James Knipl of Toledo learned about the dangers of propeller strikes while on the Maumee River this Spring. He hopes no one has to learn the lesson about this hidden danger the way he did.
“I was on the front of the boat when it was going full throttle and all of a sudden I was in the water,” Knipl said. “My friend helped me get back on the boat and all I could see was blood.”
The propeller struck James on his left arm, severing muscle and arteries. His friends rushed him to the nearest docks while calling 911. He was taken to the nearest hospital, but doctors say it could be years before he regains full use of his arm, if ever. James now undergoes physical therapy two times a week.
“The best advice I can give people is to pay attention and know the rules before you head out onto the water and any time someone falls in, put the boat in neutral,” Knipl said. “I am an avid fisherman and after this I will never be able to step foot on a boat again.”
Most propeller strikes are preventable if boaters take a few safety steps:
Turn off the engine when passengers are boarding or disembarking. Propellers should not be spinning when a passenger is in a vulnerable situation.
Prevent passengers from being thrown overboard accidentally.
Never start a boat with the engine in gear.
Never ride on a seat back, gunwale, transom, or bow.
Make sure all passengers are seated properly before getting underway. Some operators cause injuries by putting the engine in gear while people are still swimming or diving from the boat.
Assign a responsible adult to watch any children in the boat and sound the alarm if a child falls overboard.
Maintain a proper lookout for people in the water. The primary cause of propeller strike accidents is operator inattention or carelessness.
Slow down when approaching congested areas and anchorages. In congested areas, always be alert for swimmers and divers.
Learn to recognize warning buoys that mark swimming and other hazardous areas.
Keep the boat away from marked swimming and diving areas. Become familiar with the red flag with a white diagonal stripe and the blue-and-white “Alfa” flag—both signal that divers are down.
For a list of safety devices you can use to avoid this kind of accident visit ohiodnr.gov.