Two life-long friends died from carbon-monoxide poisoning on a motor cruiser moored on the River Ouse after pre-Christmas drinks in the city centre.
Stephen Jewitt, 63, and his best friend Ronald Holmes, 60, were killed by a gas leak from a heater exhaust pipe on Mr Holmes’s cruiser Diversion after they had returned to the boat following a get-together with old work colleagues in December 2019, an inquest heard.
Their wives raised the alarm with police at about midday the following day when phone calls went unanswered, but when an officer checked on the boat, it was in complete darkness and silence.
When a second officer checked on the boat a short time later at about 7.45pm, she found the two men inside the cabin, whose door was unlocked. They were unresponsive.
Fire and rescue were called, but the two friends were pronounced dead.
Investigations by marine safety experts found there had been a carbon-monoxide leak in the pipework of the cabin’s heater.
It had occurred between the heater’s exhaust silencer, which was not designed for marine use, and the pipe leading from the diesel-fuelled heater.
The inquest heard that Mr Holmes had bought the heater from eBay and fitted it himself. He had built the boat himself from scratch.
Not gas tight
Rob Loder, of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), said the silencer’s connection to the pipe system was not gas tight and the installation had not been checked by a professional heater installer, nor had it been serviced.
The pipework was “heavily” lagged which meant that it would not have been readily apparent that there was a leak between the silencer and the pipe.
There was no carbon-monoxide alarm inside the boat, meaning there would have been no alert once the deadly gas spilled from the heater system and circulated inside the cabin.
There were also flaws in the cabin ventilation system which did not meet Boat Safety Scheme standards. Holes which had been drilled in the ventilator were blocked by detritus, which may have increased the rate at which the carbon monoxide accumulated in the cabin space.
Mr Loder said that despite the flaws in the cabin, the boat had been built to a high standard.
A post-mortem confirmed the two friends had died of carbon-monoxide poisoning through inhalation.
Alcohol may have played a part in that it may have “impaired their response” to the gas leak.
In February 2019, the boat passed its safety examination but at that time carbon-monoxide detectors were not mandatory. It only became obligatory in April of that year, but boats without a detector which had already passed their four-yearly safety checks were still legitimate cruisers.
Mr Holmes, Mr Jewitt and their friend Christopher Hunter had sailed into the city centre from its mooring at York Marina in Naburn on December 3.
They moored up at the quayside near Lendal Bridge and York Museum and went out for afternoon drinks in the city, intending to return to the boat to sleep overnight. They went to about four pubs, drinking a pint of lager in each.
They had a meal and Mr Holmes and Mr Jewitt returned to the boat at about 10pm. Mr Hunter went home on a train.
When police entered the boat just before 8pm the following day, the bodies of the two men were found in the cabin bunk space. One of the men was lying on the floor; the other was seated on the forward cabin-entrance steps.
They had “prepared themselves to go to bed”. Both men were pronounced dead at about 9.15pm on December 4.
Mr Holmes, from Castleford, and Mr Jewitt, from Goole, had been life-long friends and former work colleagues at Ferrybridge Power Station in West Yorkshire, where they worked as engineers. They became very close friends and went on family holidays together.
Mr Holmes, whose hobbies included boating, diving, fishing and motorbike riding, had previously worked as a motor mechanic.
Elaine Holmes, to whom Mr Holmes had been married for nearly 40 years, said she and her husband, known as Ronnie, had had many nice days out on the boat in York and often stayed overnight when they moored up in the city.
She said her husband was “very technically-minded”.
Mr Jewitt’s wife, Jeanette Jewitt, said her husband was a doting grandfather and a “very busy man” who spent his time fixing cars and riding on his three motorbikes.
“Ronnie was Stephen’s best friend for over 20 years,” she added.
She said her husband was a “very popular man” in their village of Kellington, where he would “even help kids fix their bikes”.
Jonathan Heath, senior coroner for York and North Yorkshire, said he was satisfied that carbon-monoxide poisoning was the cause of death, and that alcohol may have contributed “directly or indirectly”.
He recorded a verdict of accidental death in relation to both men.