More rules for safety on houseboat
By Dewayne Smith, Republic correspondent, 
The Arizona Republic
December 15, 2000

Over the past 20 years or so, I have spent many, many days aboard houseboats, but I never knew that my temporary, floating living quarters were above a "death zone" until the I read the recent series in The Arizona Republic.

For the record, the vast majority of my outings were on Lake Powell rental boats, most of which didn't have gasoline-powered generators, unlike the majority of the rental boats today. From what I have been able to determine, it seems that many of the carbon monoxide poisonings now being reported happened on private crafts.

The fact that we had no generators didn't make houseboating any safer. Each boat had propane gas that fueled the stove, refrigerator, heater, barbecue and even the lights when the batteries failed. So there was always the chance escaping propane could do everyone in during their sleep or a match or a spark would blow the rig sky high if enough of the fumes accumulated in the cabin.

Although I realize the seriousness of the situation, it sounds like Lake Powell is being singled out since there have been 111 boat-related serious carbon monoxide poisonings reported there since 1990. There are other lakes in the state where large numbers of private and rental houseboats are located, but apparently, poisonings on lakes Mead, Havasu and Mohave, for example, either don't occur, don't happen often enough to cause attention or nobody's paying attention.

Also, it seemed that the trips I made usually took place when the weather was not warm enough for swimming. So even if we had generators on board, the chances of somebody breathing heavy concentrations of carbon monoxide under the back deck would be few.

Now we know that generators with their exhausts coming out of the stern are the culprits, while exhaust systems aimed out the side of the boats appear to be much safer as far as the area under the back deck is concerned.

For many people a houseboat trip is good excuse to party and it should be.

Spending a few days or a week is an excellent way get away from the rest of the world. Finding a cove or a canyon all to yourself is in itself a great reason for a celebration. But, like all things, moderation is a must.

Here are a few rules to live by if you are thinking about taking a houseboat trip:

  • Be aware of boats with rear-mounted swimming platforms that can collect exhaust fumes from generators or the boat's engines.

  • Do not swim near the back deck of a houseboat.

  • Never swim under the back deck of a houseboat.

  • Don't swim near exhaust ports.

  • Watch for indications of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, vomiting and drowsiness.

  • If you own a houseboat with a rear-mounted exhaust port, have it modified to direct the fumes away from areas where people might concentrate or swim. Or better yet, make sure all engines are shut off before swimming.

  • Any enclosed, occupied compartment on a boat, any boat, which may be occupied, should have a working carbon monoxide detector.

And it should be remembered that fumes from all boats, not just houseboats, can cause sickness or death if proper ventilation isn't provided.

Boating is supposed to be fun, but like everything else in life, people need take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of those around them.


    Copyright 2000, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.