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‘Safe’ generators reduce CO emissions

Westerbeke’s Safe-CO gas gensets will range in output from 3 to 25kW

Westerbeke’s Safe-CO gas gensets will range in output from 3 to 25kW

Westerbeke Corp. plans by fall to offer a series of “safe” generators that reduce carbon monoxide emissions by more than 99 percent compared to standard models.

That’s well below all of the “safe” levels published by agencies that set CO exposure standards, says Thomas K. Sutherland, sales and marketing director for the Taunton, Mass.-based company.

Recommended exposure limits vary by agency. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends no more than 35 parts per million exposure to CO and sets a ceiling of 200 ppm. The Environmental Protection Agency sets a ceiling of 9 ppm over eight hours and no more than 35 ppm over one hour. Sutherland says a conventional generator emits 10,000 to 30,000 ppm of CO.

Westerbeke’s Safe-CO line of gasoline-fueled generators will range in output from 3 to about 25 kW, Sutherland says.

Westerbeke is a major supplier of generators for houseboats, which have been a concern of the Coast Guard and public health officials because of a growing number of reports of houseboat-related CO deaths. Most of the deaths occur around the stern, where engine and generator exhaust vents. Houseboaters often swim off the stern while the boat is anchored and the engine is shut off, but the generator often is still running and venting exhaust at the transom. The Coast Guard has asked houseboat manufacturers to recall models with gasoline generators that vent exhaust out the rear, and correct the problem. Most are doing that by fitting new designs or retrofitting old ones with dry stacks that vent exhaust in the air above the boat.

The Westerbeke technology, which combines electronic fuel injection with other engineering that still is under wraps while patents are pending, is a big step forward in reducing the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, says Phil Cappel, chief of the Coast Guard Recreational Boating Product Assurance Division.

Houseboats still should have overhead dry stacks to vent exhaust in case the generator isn’t properly maintained, which can result in higher emissions, or the emissions technology fails, Cappel says. “But if you have a generator that puts out less than 25 ppm of CO and your exhaust is vented above the boat, you shouldn’t have a problem,” he says.

CO poisoning from generators isn’t a danger only on houseboats. Increasing numbers of non-houseboats carry a generator to power air conditioning, entertainment systems and galley appliances. Cappel says low CO emission generators are a real boon for these boats that for now can’t feasibly carry a dry stack to vent generator exhaust, though some form of overhead venting for cabin boats and big sportboats is possible in the future. Cappel says several boatbuilders are working on systems to vent the exhaust overhead through a radar arch.

Westerbeke plans to offer nine sizes in the Safe-CO series. The low-emission generators will be more expensive than conventional ones but still should be “reasonably affordable,” Sutherland says.

He says even with a Safe-CO generator aboard, boaters are advised to take precautions to avoid CO poisoning. They should carry CO detectors on the boat, maintain the engine and generator in excellent condition to prevent CO leaks, use a bilge blower to evacuate fumes, beware of the cockpit or cabin sucking in exhaust while under way, and look out for CO from a neighbor’s exhaust or from a blockage of their own boat’s exhaust when it is pulled alongside a seawall, boathouse or another vessel.

The Coast Guard also advises against “teak surfing” — hitching a tow while clinging to the swim platform — or sitting on the transom or swim platform when the engine or generator is running.

“We still need to educate people about CO,” Sutherland says. n