Recalls put ‘Sophia’s Law’ on hold until ’18

by Nicole Brodzik
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Sophia Baechler, 7, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning on a boat in 2016. (file photo)

The new boater safety law called Sophia’s Law has been delayed by a year thanks to recalls on battery powered marine carbon monoxide detectors.

Sophia’s Law, named for 7-year-old carbon monoxide poisoning victim Sophia Baechler, requires that all motorboats with designated sleeping accommodations, a galley area with a sink and a toilet compartment have a functional marine carbon monoxide detector system installed. This law applies to all boats that fit that description, even if the boat uses an outboard motor, like some sail boats.

Originally, the law was set to be enforced starting May 1, 2017, but due to a lack of the marine carbon monoxide detectors, the date has been pushed back to May 1, 2018.

“The primary reason for the change is that there was a recall on the battery powered marine carbon monoxide detectors,” said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Boating and Water Safety Manager Stan Linnell. “A lot of people were waiting for those battery powered detectors because they’re easier to install and if you didn’t have one originally installed on the boat, it could get very expensive.”

Motorboats cannot use the same kinds of detectors that are typically seen in homes or buildings on land. According to DNR website, for the detector to be compliant with the new law they must be, “listed for marine use, including certification by an independent party.” DNR Boat and Water Safety Outreach Coordinator Lisa Dugan said that this is because marine carbon monoxide detectors are equipped to the handle temperature variations and vibrations experienced on the water. She emphasized that boaters should make sure to get the detectors installed professionally as well.

Boats that require detectors are also required to have three warning stickers on the exterior of the boat, with one at the helm, one in or at the entrance to any enclosed space and one at the boarding or stem area. Free warning stickers can be found at Minnesota Deputy Registrar locations and many marinas, marine dealers, and repair shops. Vessels like row boats, small fishing boats and pontoons are not required to have detectors or stickers. However, Dugan said that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get carbon monoxide poisoning from boats like pontoons.

She said that carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from emissions from any engine and that when people swim near the back of running boats, they are susceptible to CO poisoning as well.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year, with another 20,000 visiting the emergency rooms and more than 4,000 being hospitalized. The DNR asks that anyone who experiences these symptoms and suspects a carbon monoxide leak to be the issue, leave any enclosed spaces, get plenty of fresh air and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Other devices, such as low level detectors, can help prevent issues as well. Low level carbon monoxide detectors can help notify boat occupants of lower amounts of carbon monoxide in the air, that while are likely not fatal, can still be harmful. These are especially helpful for the very young or old, but are not accepted as substitutes for carbon monoxide detectors and should only be used as a supplemental device.

For more information on Sophia’s Law, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/sophias-law.html