Managing risks associated with engines, emissions and fuel

Be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas produced through the burning of carbon-based fuels (e.g. petrol, gas or oil).

Boaters need to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide and take precautions to ensure their vessel is well-ventilated at all times.

Most vessels contain a range of equipment that can produce carbon monoxide including engines, generators, cooking equipment and space or water heaters.

Prolonged exposure to a low concentration of carbon monoxide - or rapid exposure to a high concentration - can be fatal.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to seasickness or alcohol intoxication. Early symptoms include headaches, nausea, eye irritation, weakness or dizziness.

If you notice these symptoms in someone else aboard a vessel, ensure they are exposed to fresh air and seek urgent medical attention.

Symptoms can progress quickly, and those affected by carbon monoxide poisoning can collapse or lose consciousness. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in a fatality.


How to minimise the risks of carbon monoxide when boating

  1. Know where the carbon monoxide exhaust outlets are and ensure your vessel is well-ventilated. Exhaust outlets should be vented away from living areas.
  2. Avoid inhaling emissions from exhaust outlets and operate your vessel so that prevailing winds help disperse exhaust emissions. Keep forward-facing hatches open to allow fresh air to circulate and avoid the effects of backdrafting.
  3. Install a carbon monoxide detector alarm in your vessel and regularly test its proper functioning.
  4. Passengers should avoid using the rear deck and swimming platform when engines are running. It is recommended that passengers do not use these areas until the engine or generator has been switched off for at least 15 minutes. This includes “teak surfing” (body surfing behind a vessel) as this can lead to rapid inhalation of carbon monoxide.
  5. When being towed behind a vessel (e.g. wakeboarding, water-skiing or aquaplaning), keep a distance of at least 7 metres behind the vessel at all times.
  6. Exhausts from a nearby stationary vessel (e.g. docked or anchored boat) can emit carbon monoxide into the cabin or cockpit of your boat. Always maintain a distance of at least 6 metres from the nearest vessel that has a running engine or generator, including when idling or travelling at low speeds.
  7. Avoid leaving your engine or generator running while your vessel is moored as carbon monoxide can infiltrate the cabin.
  8. Regularly check your vessel’s exhaust system(s) for signs of a leak. Common signs include rust, black streaking, water leaks or cracked fittings. Ensure that all exhaust clamps are in place and secure, and that exhaust hoses are in good working condition.
  9. Poorly-tuned engines generate more carbon monoxide. Schedule regular maintenance inspections for your engine and exhaust system(s) with trained marine technicians.


How to refuel your vessel safely

Refuelling is one of the most potentially hazardous parts of boating. To minimise the risk of fire or explosion, follow the correct procedures and avoid distraction. This is especially important with inboard petrol engines.

More information on fuel for your vessel can be found in the Boating Handbook.

Before refuelling

  • Switch off your engine/s
  • Ensure your vessel is securely moored against the jetty, wharf or shore, and do not let another vessel tie up alongside you
  • Turn off or put out all potential sources of flame or sparks, such as cigarettes, pilot lights, gas refrigerators, electrical equipment, batteries and mobile phones
  • Close all hatches and doors
  • Read any instructions provided at the refuelling facility
  • Don’t be afraid to ask an attendant for help
  • Always have the correct fire-fighting equipment on board. Make sure it is easy to reach, in good working order and you know how to use it
  • Be aware of any other fire-fighting equipment nearby
  • Look for the nearest spill kit and consider carrying a small kit with you so you can quickly clean up any small spills
  • Instruct all your crew and passengers to leave the boat.



During refuelling

  • Double check that no-one else is onboard
  • Ensure the hose nozzle is in the tank before starting the dispenser, and make sure you have selected the correct fuel for your engine/s
  • Always operate the fuel dispenser by hand. Never lock or jam it in the open position
  • Maintain firm contact between the hose nozzle and the filler neck to avoid static sparks. Keep your feet firmly on the deck, wharf or pontoon at all times
  • Be careful not to overfill your tank/s. Fuel expands in high temperatures
  • Try not to spill any fuel
  • Ensure the dispenser is off before removing the hose nozzle from the tank
  • Keep a soft rag handy to immediately clean up any drips as you remove the hose nozzle
  • Ensure you replace the fuel cap.


After refuelling

  • Open all hatches and doors and ensure the engine bay and bilges have adequate ventilation
  • Use a ‘bilge blower’ after refuelling to help remove fumes. Run the blower for a sufficient time to clear fumes, depending on the capacity of the blower and the size of the engine space
  • Take the time to make sure any ‘dead spaces’ are clear of fumes and remember that fumes will tend to accumulate in the lowest part of the vessel, which may vary depending on how the vessel is loaded
  • Check to see if any fuel has spilled into the bilges. If it has, manually pump the bilges out into a container or an onshore tank and then thoroughly ventilate the bilges
  • Start the engine only when you are satisfied that the boat is free of fumes – use your sense of smell in conjunction with an appropriate gas detector to locate any pockets of remaining petrol vapour. If you suspect any vapours, fully vent the space and check for leaks in the fuel system
  • Allow passengers to board the vessel only after you have started the engine and allowed it to run for several minutes
  • Don’t stay alongside a refuelling facility longer than necessary. If you wish to load supplies and boating gear, use another location.