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Why you need a carbon monoxide detector on your boat

The mother of Nicholas Banfield, an experienced 23-year-old sailor who died of carbon monoxide poisoning, says the Government needs to do more to stop others from experiencing the same fate.

Banfield, who began sailing at 7-years-old, was sailing his yacht in Sydney Harbour with his girlfriend in July 2016, when the tragedy took place.

What happened

According to abc.net.au, Banfield’s girlfriend phoned her family in a confused state, which prompted them to launch a search.

Banfield’s employer – Sean Langman, of Noakes, a North Sydney-based marine company – told abc.net.au.

“Basically we just got as many people as we could call who knew something about the harbour and then tried to retrace the steps.”

“We actually stole fishing boats off people, just put them off their boats. One guy in a fishing boat said, ‘I’ll take you around’.”

The yacht was eventually discovered moored near Balmoral Beach, but it was tragically too late for Banfield.

His girlfriend was transported to hospital in serious condition.

Carbon monoxide poisoning the cause

On board, police found the gas stove switched to the ‘on’ position, which led them to believe the cause of death was poisoning from carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a gas caused by the burning of fuel. It cannot be seen, smelt or tasted, which makes it extremely dangerous.

Dr Ciaran MacCarron, a confined space fatalities expert, said people don’t expect things to go wrong when they ‘boat or caravan for leisure.’

“A damaged gas line, an exhaust leaking will potentially kill the person,” she said.

“It’s not in their expectation, they have no need to worry about it because they think the regulator and other people are looking after them, but clearly that’s not occurring.”

Disorientation occurs within minutes

As an experienced boater, Banfield’s parents said he would have known about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, but perhaps underestimated the likelihood.

Banfield’s father said medical experts believe his disorientation would have occurred in only a matter of minutes.

“So we’re not talking about people slowly being disorientated over hours, we’re talking about something that can happen extremely fast,” he said.

This disorientation would have made it harder for Banfield to react logically and find the cause of his distress.

Coroners demand mandatory detectors

As a result of this tragedy a number of coroners have requested that carbon monoxide alarms be made mandatory on all vessels.

An alarm costs around $50, and would have undoubtedly save the life of this young man.

The coroner said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people die of carbon monoxide poisoning every year, but from 2011 to 2016, at least 16 people died as a result of operating gas appliances within confined spaces that did not have suitable ventilation.

Just 6 months after Banfield’s passing, two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning aboard a vessel on the Derwent River.

After three people in a caravan in Tasmania died of the same cause, a coronial inquest once against warned of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Noakes steps up

Although reform has not been made, Banfield’s former employer Sean Langman has made changes to protocol at his marine company.

“Rather than wait for legislation, we made the decision within our organisation that we would fit CO alarms on every single vessel that comes through the yard,” he said.

If you have a boat or caravan, don’t wait. Buy a carbon monoxide detector and fit it immediately. They’re available at Anaconda for around $40 or Bunnings for around $57.

Stay safe on the water and take care of yourself.

 

* Prices correct as of the day this blog was posted.