Date: 22 May 2016. Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Batteries.
I don't have to tell you I make
mistakes. For proof positive of that read the
with Drunks (tool locker and dinette table)
article. This week I made another mistake, and a serious one at
that. Honestly it was a compilation of errors. Usually the initial
goof-up does not cause a catastrophic failure. The compounding is
what ups a minor problem into a major one. The fault lies with me and I was fortunate
that nothing serious occurred.
My initial mistake was in the
placement of my carbon monoxide monitor. I've got a battery powered
one from Kidde. What I did not know is that they need to be high on the wall
For years I've had mine in the
wrong place. Read the instructions and you'll see as I did "up high
on a wall outside of sleeping areas" is the recommendation. So I
Carbon monoxide is lighter than air. The alarm
needs to be place above your breathing space.
When I learned this I moved the alarm to an
appropriate place in my pilothouse. It is now just forward of the
doorway on the port side. The pilothouse is also the highest cabin in
the boat. Any fumes would gather there first.
I installed the
CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM just forward of
the pilothouse door on the port side.
Going aft the galley is one step
down from the pilothouse. Heading forward two steps down reaches my
cabin. The pilothouse is wonderful. I installed the alarm and all
was well. Two days later it started sounding off.
Because I'm so smart (roll your
eyes here) I didn't think anything of it. I did take out the
batteries to see if they needed replacement. The AA's tested at 1.3 volts. Fully charged they would
be 1.5 volts. I assumed the batteries were getting old and the
batteries in the alarm were what was causing the alarm to go off.
I had just this past week read of
such an occurrence so there was some merit to the assumption.
Minimally so. This was the second mistake.
What I failed to do
was look in the bilge of Seaweed.
I did not check the house and start bank batteries.
Not checking my boat battery banks was my third error
in the series. This mistake could have culminated Very Poorly. That
I "knew better" doesn't help much either.
I was complacent
when I should have been vigilant.
The thing is this: On the first of
each month I individually check each battery. I know the two in
my start bank are old and beginning to fail. When I test them the
voltage goes down further and faster than all the rest of the batts.
I've been expecting the pair to fail any day now.
Well, guess what? With an alarm
ringing I didn't check the flipping batteries. Instead I removed the
AA's from the alarm. I don't know what I was thinking. Well,
actually I was not thinking. That is for certain.
Normally charging batteries will
not make any alarms ring. Overcharging resulting in out-gassing will
cause the alarm to alert. If I had opened the hatch and pinged
(shot/tested) each battery with my Infrared thermometer I would have
known immediately that one battery was hotter than the rest. The
heat would have been yet another clue there was a problem.
When batteries are
overcharged/out-gassing they heat up. That is a dangerous situation.
I was complacent
because I check my batteries each month. I have
heard that not a lot of boaters check their batts as often as I do.
Mine are relatively easy to get to. Testing is a part of
my monthly maintenance schedule.
Trust me when I
say I should have immediately suspected a problem when that alarm
went off. I knew that my start bank had flooded batteries circa
2010. They are at the end of their life cycle.
The next morning I woke up to 12.2 on the voltage meter by my bunk. ARGH!!!
When I saw that I knew the CO alarm was sounding
for a reason. And I immediately knew which battery it was too. While
I was busy kicking myself I solved the issue.
Mini-Lesson in Carbon
Monoxide Alarms: The units don't just check for carbon monoxide.
They also are designed to ring on the presence of a number of
airborne particles dangerous to humans. That includes the
out-gassing from batteries. When batts go bad they release a gas
(out-gassing) that affects/sets off the alarms.
In essence the battery is
overheating and a poisonous steam escapes. The out-gassing and
battery acid inside the battery are two reasons why we should
keep our batteries in boxes. Any fluids escaping the batteries
cannot damage items in the boat when they are in a box.
Side Note: Aboard Seaweed I
have a bunch of volt meters. Wherever I am there is within sight a
display. They allow me to keep up with the state of my
I am aware of those fancy
meters and monitoring systems for batteries. They are expensive.
These meters are less
than $5 each from China. They work just fine.
With them I can tell how
things are doing. It is not as precise as an electrical engineer
may prefer however this is Good Enough.
Three things I did to abate any
I immediately shut
off the solar panels so they would not be adding more power to the
I isolated the
bank. That means I shut off the switch that joins the start bank
with the house bank. It is my policy to run all my batteries
disconnected the problem battery from the other start bank battery.
Aboard Seaweed I have two batteries in my start bank. Two are not
needed because my engine is a small 18hp Kubota. The two batteries are from 2010. I knew they were going to
fail. It was just a question of when. I wanted them
isolated/separated from the rest of my better/newer batteries.
Yes I will be buying another pair
of batteries for that start bank. I know that second battery will
fail as both have had the same use cycles. The last one is still
working so I'll use it until it gives up the ghost.
When the CO alarm
rings next time I will find out the reason why. No assumptions!
This is what my meter showed on the
For those like me not so long ago, any reading below
12.0 is too low. A battery reading below 11.5 is considered dead.
The likelihood of being able to recharge it is not good. My bad
battery at 10.84 is *toast.
*Toast: Not recoverable. If told
your battery is toast that means it won't work any more. The term is
used most often in computer repair dens. "The hard-drive is toast"
means the part has failed and data cannot be recovered.
Aboard Seaweed I keep close track
of my battery voltage. When the numbers get below 12.3 I start
shutting down the extraneous. I won't make more popcorn and will not
enjoy a movie marathon. Instead I'll pull out my Kindle and read.
It's a good life afloat,
especially with a Kindle.
I made several errors.
carbon monoxide alarm was placed incorrectly. It needs to be near
When the alarm
went off repeatedly I assumed it was the batteries inside the unit
that were failing.
I should have
looked for the cause of the alarm rather than ignoring it. Because I check my
boat batteries each month I was complacent.
- That won't happen again.
Alarms serve a purpose and I'll definitely pay attention to mine.
Just because I test a battery once a month doesn't mean it will last
out the next thirty days. I knew I had two weak batteries so I
should have immediately suspected a problem when the alarm sounded.
Be smarter than I was. Really
there are so many ways you can be smarter than I was this time.
Happy SAFE boating to you and yours. I'll be here
in the galley eating humble pie. Care to join me?
Do you have a CO alarm in your home?
Are your alarms in the right place?
In the Bilges,
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