Houseboats: The Hidden Dangers Under the Water

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Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah is a popular spring and summer vacation destination for visitors from all over the country. The scene is idyllic: you’re surrounded by beautiful water, floating and basking in the sun along with many others who are doing the same to take a break from city life. For those who enjoy outdoor recreation, plans are already being made to spend parts of the summer taking up residence on the lake for a week or longer. The water provides a welcome respite to the hustle and bustle of the long, hard days at work. But, because boating of all kinds is considered a form of recreation, many of us don’t think the same rules apply on the water as those we practice on land. Accidents involving houseboats and other boats have many causes, some natural and some careless. What causes these injuries and fatalities, and how can they be prevented?

Houseboat injuries are many, and could include: a collision with a fixed object or another water vehicle, falling overboard or slipping on the deck, fires or explosions, propellers, flooding of the boat, stormy or other hazardous water conditions, equipment failure and drowning. And, believe it or not, carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the bigger causes of hidden dangers involving boat recreation. The US Coast Guard Boating Safety Division website offers tips for those who want to spend some time on the water. They have also compiled, in conjunction with the Division of Homeland Security and Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, a comprehensive 79-page report called Recreational Boating Statistics 2011 which covers statistics related to all types of boating recreation accidents and incidents, including those that involved houseboats.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, as is relates to houseboats, is a common cause of death, likely from fumes emitted from the electrical generator or engines in spaces that can’t be seen above water. In 2000, two young boys died when they were diving and swimming in the air space beneath the swim deck of their houseboat. The generator had been running to cool the interior of the boat. Within just a few short minutes, both boys lost consciousness and were found the next day with carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) levels of 59% and 52%. In an earlier incident, three teenagers were sliding into the water from a houseboat slide. After a few minutes, their symptoms included dizziness and headaches. One was later found dead with a COHb level of 53.9%. Teak surfing, another popular sport, has a high probability of carbon monoxide poisoning. In this sport, swimmers find a spot within the airstream behind the boat where the carbon monoxide has accumulated in an air pocket. Once there is an intake of air, the result could be fatal.

Houseboats offer a unique opportunity to live on the water, and are a wonderful way to take yourself way from the chaos. But, before taking up residence on a houseboat, especially if you have never done it before, know what’s involved in maintaining and creating an enjoyable space for you, your family and friends. The last thing you want is for someone to be injured (or worst, die) on a vacation, and for your houseboat to be considered a deathtrap.