There are many ways you can run into harms way on the water. Alcohol and boat operation. Not wearing a life jacket. Going out in bad weather. However, game wardens are running into boaters who are overcome by a silent, invisible threat: carbon monoxide.

Memorial Day Weekend Game Wardens were patrolling in 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 Game Warden Capt. Robert Goodrich. “But those fumes are boiling up back there and it’s unsafe to be back there with the engine idling.”


Carbon Monoxide is odorless but fuel is not. But by the time the smell of fuel becomes strong, it may be too late as far as how much carbon monoxide has been inhaled.


“Boat operators just don’t realize what’s doing on back there,” said Goodrich, who’s responded to two other calls like this earlier in the spring and one last year.


“This young lady was lucky, she ended up okay, but she did not have a life jacket on. This very well could have been a fatality.”


A few years ago on a private ski lake in Ellis County, another teenage girl was not so fortunate. She was lying on the back deck of a ski boat and was over come with carbon monoxide and died.

Carbon monoxide can imperil boaters as well as people at home. Since 1990, carbon monoxide has killed at least 93 people while they were boating and sickened nearly 400 others, according to federal safety investigators quote in a Consumer Reports article. The poisonings affected people inside and outside boats, when boats were moored and even when under way. The poisonings can happen in the following circumstances: when passengers hang onto the rear of the boat and allow themselves to be pulled through the water until the boat’s wake builds enough to allow body surfing. “Teak surfing,” as it’s called, puts passengers close to the engine exhaust; when passengers ride on or swim beneath a platform near the exhaust; when leaky seals between decks, bulkheads, and the hull or a faulty or poorly maintained exhaust system allows carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin; when boats are moored close together and one has an engine running; or when the “station wagon effect” generates air currents that pull exhaust gas into the cabin, much as auto exhaust enters through an open rear hatch.

Preventative measures:

  • Keep the boat’s exhaust system in good repair.
  • Turn off engine anytime the boat is idling and there is no air to pull the fumes away.
  • Have a marine-grade carbon monoxide detector on board.
  • Don’t let passengers teak surf, and keep passengers off the swim platform when the engine or generator is running.

– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide