A Near Death experience, CO alarms a must and a costly mistake.

Hi everyone no I’m not writing this from the other side. This is not a ghostly missive but maybe it could have been. Here are a couple of reminders for everyone about CO alarms and chimney cleaning and a slightly embarassing not knowing your boat’s electical system as well as you should.

Firstly I was rudely awoken by the shreiking of legions of the damned at 1.30 am Saturday morning. Leaping out of bed I discovered it was in fact my Carbon Monoxide alarm which I hastily took off the wall, stuck my finger over the speaker while I worked out how to silence it. In my half comatose state I opened a couple of windows reset the alarm, opened the fire up a little as I thought if  it burns hotter it might stop the CO production and crawled back into bed. It went off again in quite a short time so I leapt out of bed again and opened some more windows and the houdini hatch too and went back to bed again after resetting the alarm. This time it stayed silent.

003In the morning I let the fire out so I could check the stove. I had done a thorough clean of the stove and chimney in the late summer to make sure everything was ok for  when winter set in. My baffle plate doesn’t come out as it is an integral part of the stove so it’s not easy to clean but I had done it at the end of summer. I got my hand in and felt on top of the baffle plate and instead of a smooth metal plate there was what felt like cold molten rock which on the right hand side had formed a stalagmite type structure from the baffle plate to the roof of the stove. Oh bugger I thought, this is fairly solid. The only thing I could get in to chip away at it was an electrical small screwdriver. After about 10 or 15 minutes I’d broken a few pieces off when it cracked and the mass of it then came loose to shouts of joy as I was beginning to think of other ways to get at it. It was about 3 or 4 inches across and about an inch high overall with a bit of it joining up with the flue. Now I have only had the fire on regularly for about 4 weeks or so and I never thought that it would want checking so soon but I will let it out once a fortnight or slightly less and check the baffle plate.005 I then borrowed Tim’s chimney brush, it really is wonderful having good neighbours, see second half of post too, and gave it a good sweep out.

If I hadn’t had the Carbon Monoxide, CO, alarm what would have happened? Would I have woke up to find myself deceased, kaput, an exboater, regretting not having strangled a few worthy people before departing for the ultimate cruise. It might just have been a bad headache and severe tiredness but then would I have put that down to carbon monoxide or just being under the weather and stoked up the fire and gone to bed early again. It makes you think. Well it has me.

The costly mistake was a few weeks ago, infact probably about 4 or 5 weeks ago, my batteries finally gave up and after taking one out to check the colour of the spyglass hole and it was white which means it is no more. I took it round to Midland Chandlers and they checked it and it was an ex battery as where the other two when I took them out. 3 new batteries where needed which cost £240 give or take a few sheckels. They did ask about the charger which I said must have been working ok as I’d not had any trouble before. This was partly a lie but in fairness it was what I believed.

After installing the new batteries the battery level indicator read about 80% yeah. However now that I’m not out and about as much as I was and the nights longer I kept more of a watch on the battery levels which dropped fairly quickly. Now a chance conversation with one of my neighbours, Ken, about battery levels and as he know a bit more than me he asked about a charger. So we had a look round and in the engine room and checked the inverter as they can be inverter/chargers. Mine isn’t. Ken fetched is volt meter and the batteries were at  a reading of 12.09  volts which is about 25%. Not good so the engine was run for an hour or so which boosted them up to a more healthy 50%. Good neighbours are worth their weight in brass fittings.Anyway after a search and a bit of reading of the Adverc battery management manual I don’t have a battery charger so through my ignorance it has cost me £240 before it should have done.

I’m certain Brian who sold me the boat  must have mentioned it but at the time of picking her up there were so many things he went over with me before we set out that I obviously didn’t latch onto it and assumed when plugged into shoreline power that my leisure batteries were being topped up. So if you are thinking of buying an older boat check this out as it isn’t a great problem if you haven’t got one it’s just a problem if you don’t know you haven’t got one.

Now I can spend the winter deciding wether to install a battery charger for hook up or to invest instead in some solar panels to charge them up.

I have so much to learn and only one life to do it in, well as far as we know.

Take care out there.


Useful Information
Our Nige

55 years old. I work in registered care as a care assistant and have my house up for sale and when sold will be buying a narrowboat of some kind to live on. Been a bit of a dream of mine for many years. Don't know for certain if I'll like it but I'm really looking forward to it and think that I will. I have been looking at boats and reading and talking to people over the last 6 to 9 monts and sometimes I feel like I might know what layout I want. I will be on a restricted budget of about 25 to 35k and will be looking for advice and tips to help me make a fair start on the water.

Alan - Tuesday,3 December, 2013

Yes CO monitors (at least 2) are a must as are fire alarms.  I had a close call when I put the kettle on for the hottie and promptly fell asleep in front of the tv.  Woke up to a boat full of smoke and fumes – the kettle had boiled dry and conducted heat had melted the gas lighter and scorched the worktop.  The 2 fire alarms were sitting waiting to be fitted!

Regarding solar panels – they are well worth fitting if you do a fair bit of cruising (or do not have a charger for shore-power!) but will not supply your needs in the winter unless you are a very very light user.


pearley - Tuesday,3 December, 2013

I would agree with Alan, solar won’t provide enough power at this time of the year unless you have a lot of panels and/or a light user. I don’t think my panels would be able to replace the power taken by the fridge overnight.

We too have been woken by the CO monitor a couple of times. The first time was by the batteries gassing excessively when plugged into a shoreline – a problem you won’t have until you get a charger! The other time was when the wind caused a blowback down the chimney and filled the boat with fumes.

Our stove doesn’t have a baffle plate so there is nothing for debris and gunk to build up on but I would have thought that the flue should only need cleaning once a year. There is a thread on another forum about the specification of Stoveheat being changed and it now not being suitable in smokefree areas. The original poster described the same problems as you have experienced so maybe it is due to what you are burning.





Paul Smith - Thursday,5 December, 2013

A great post Nige with some sound advice. Carbon monoxide monitors are worth their weight in gold. Ours haven’t alerted us to a problem yet but, having read numerous horror stories about what can happen if you don’t have them fitted, they give us real peace of mind when we retire at night to dream sweet dreams of living the continuous cruising lifestyle that Pete Earley above lives. Only a couple more years now, I hope!


Our Nige - Sunday,8 December, 2013

Thanks for the tips and thoughts and I hadn’t thought about 2 CO alarms so will be on my shopping list. I am a light user of electric the only mod con being a 12v fridge. No washer, kettle, microwave, iron, tv or much else. I have computer and charge my phone mainly and the lights and water pumps. So thanks for giving me a few avenues to look into and do some sums before deciding. That’s what friends are for.

many thanks



Alan - Monday,9 December, 2013

Our Nige said
Thanks for the tips and thoughts and I hadn’t thought about 2 CO alarms so will be on my shopping list. I am a light user of electric the only mod con being a 12v fridge. No washer, kettle, microwave, iron, tv or much else. I have computer and charge my phone mainly and the lights and water pumps. So thanks for giving me a few avenues to look into and do some sums before deciding. That’s what friends are for.

many thanks


The recommendation is for at least 2, depending on boat size and layout.  Certainly one in each bedroom is essential and another in the saloon will provide an early alert for any problems with the stove.  Maybe one would be enough on a small boat?


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