Thursday, June 09, 2005

Carbon monoxide a silent, invisible threat when boating

Carbon monoxide a silent, invisible threat when boating By JIM DARNELL - Local Outdoors Columnist Posted: Thursday, Jun 09, 2005 - 04:13:09 pm CDT Visiting my daughter and her family on Lake Travis Memorial Day Weekend was a real eye-opener. Recreational boating and personal watercraft traffic was unbelievable. It was a war zone. High-speed jet skis were following ski boats jumping the boat wakes. A fallen skier looked like a downed fighter pilot in enemy infested waters. The occasional fisherman didn't have a chance unless he likes surfing wakes while trying to cast to the banks. Besides all the well-known ways to get in harms way on the water, such as alcohol and boats, no life jacket, bad weather, there is a silent invisible threat - carbon monoxide. On that same weekend game wardens were patrolling the Devils Cove on Lake Travis when they responded to an emergency medical call of a female not breathing on board a vessel. The 18-year old had been overcome with carbon monoxide from the back of a vessel, according to medical personnel. She had fallen off the back of the boat from the deck without a life jacket on, unconscious. Fortunately, other boat occupants pulled her out of the water. She responded to oxygen and was taken to the hospital. "People want to sit back there and drink and hang out," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden Robert Goodrich. "But those fumes are boiling up back there and it's unsafe to be back there with the engine idling." "This young lady was lucky, she ended up okay, but she did not have a life jacket," said Goodrich. "This very well could have been a fatality." Carbon monoxide is odorless and when enough is inhaled, without the victim realizing it, death comes. A few years ago, on a private ski lake in Ellis County, a teenage girl who was lying on the back deck of a ski boat was overcome with carbon monoxide and died. Since 1990, carbon monoxide has killed at least 93 people while boating and sickened nearly 400 others. A new water craze is contributing to this carbon monoxide threat. It's called teak surfing. While standing on my son-in-law Bill Paschall's dock, I watched several people surfing the wake right behind the boats. It looked fun and easy. The swimmer just held onto the back of the boat until the boat's wake was like a beach wave. Then they turned loose and let the surfboard ride the curl like they were on some exotic South Sea vacation island. The boat moved along slowly at the same speed as the surfer. The problem is the engine exhaust. The surfer is right behind the boat transom and breathing in the fumes, some of which are the silent killer-carbon monoxide. Because the swim platform on most ski boats is made of teakwood the activity is called teak surfing. My daughter, son-in-law and their friends teak surf regularly. Bill is very aware of the dangers. "We don't let one person surf very long and we always make sure there's a breeze blowing to help disperse the fumes," he said. He also told me that due to the popularity of teak surfing one of the major builders of ski boats, Ski Centurion, is directing the exhaust out of the side of the boat in it's newest models. Another danger that occurs from the invisible gas is when several boats moor closer together for partying. If one or more of the boats has the engine idling, carbon monoxide builds up because of no air currants to carry it away. The frolicking water enthusiasts have no idea that they are breathing deadly fumes. Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel have a simple suggestion to solve the problem: Don't let passengers teak surf, and keep passengers off the swim platform when the engine or generator is running. Simple. But will boaters heed it. Of course not! It's like exhorting young people about safe sex or the dangers of drugs. It has about as much effect as spitting into the wind. Even though the carbon monoxide threat is real, it pales into significance compared to the most deadly water peril - boating while intoxicated (BWI). Over half of the 209 boating accidents last year involved alcohol. Arrests in Texas for BWI were up from 193 in 2003 to 279 in 2004. A reminder: a law that took effect in 2001 includes suspension of an automobile driver's license for failing to submit to alcohol testing when suspected of operating a vessel while intoxicated. This applies to watercrafts of 50 horsepower or more. There's a long hot summer ahead and taking to the water is one of the best ways to combat the heat. But let's be safe. "Texas is different from many other states in that we have a year-round boating season. We also have more inland water than any of the 48 continental states. We have a coastline and all the activity there as well. We also have one of the highest number of registered boats in the nation. We just have a lot of activity. With all this in mind, we feel like overall, boating is a safe activity in Texas, but boaters should learn and follow basic safety tips," said Willie Gonzales, assistant chief of marine enforcement at TPWD. Jim Darnell is an ordained minister and host and producer of the syndicated outdoors show 'God's Great Outdoors'.

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