Each year the USCG records a number of accidents that occur while fueling and many of them result in serious injury or worse. With the boating season in full swing, we offer these timely tips on being safe while fueling your boat. If you get in the habit of following these safe fueling procedures, chances are you'll never come across a problem, and if you do, you'll discover it before anything happens.
Before topping off the tank at your local gas station, consider how fuel weight affects your tow vehicle’s fuel economy. Gasoline weighs 6.1 lbs. (2.77 kg) per gallon, so if you are planning a road trip, wait until you are close to your final destination before fueling the boat. Excess weight can also be hard on a hull, especially on long trips.
To help avoid spills at the gas station, carry a step stool to get a good look at what’s going on while refueling. Operate the nozzle by hand (don’t rely on the hands-free clip), and use a “fuel catcher” which temporarily attaches to the overboard fuel vent via suction cups in order to capture any vented fuel.
To prevent spills at the fill fitting, always use an absorbent pad, bib, or fuel collar. If you’re carrying portable gas cans, fill them on the ground, then cap and secure them to prevent leaks and shifting.
Carefully consider your boat’s fuel needs for the day. In many cases, you don’t need to load it to the gills, as carrying excess fuel will result in your engines having to work harder and burning more fuel. Remember the rule of thirds: Use the first third of your available fuel to get to your destination; save the next third for getting back to the dock; and keep the remaining third for reserve.
If you choose to fill up, fill to only 90 percent of the tank’s capacity to allow room for thermal expansion.
Remember that fuel dock pumps tend to operate at high flow volumes, and boat fuel fills may back up and overflow. Once again, don’t count on the automatic shut-off feature; operate the pump by hand. Listen to the sound of the fuel going into your tank. You can usually hear the tone change, and that is when it's time to stop.
Absorbent pads and a fuel catcher will likewise help prevent spills from reaching the water. If filling a portable tank, remove it from the boat and place on the dock so it is grounded.
Before fueling, extinguish any open flames and remove passengers from the boat and immediate area. Close hatches and ports so gasoline fumes don’t collect below. It’s a good idea to know how much fuel you need before you start pumping to help prevent overfilling. Avoid turning on the key to check the fuel gauge, as small electronic charges can lead to sparking.
If you use a portable gas tank, remember that they generally weep fuel through the air vent, which is often in the gas cap. This happens both in metal and plastic tanks. Keep your air vents closed until you are ready to use the engine. Always keep your portable fuel tank out in the open so that plenty of air can get to it.
6 to 13 Potential Problem Points. If you have a larger boat with a built-in fuel tank, remember that there is a hose from your fuel fill to the tank, another hose from the tank to the engine, and a third one from the tank to the air vent. Each hose has at least two connections, so at the minimum you have six joints where fuel can leak. If you have twin engines you could have as many as 13 hose joints or more.
You need to inspect these joints in the Spring and periodically and always keep in the back of your mind that hose clamps can break and that the vibration and pounding of boating can work joints loose. Are they double-clamped with clamps in good working order? Are the hoses in good shape?
Most explosions occur on older boats because a hose has failed or a clamp has come lose.
Important Advice. Once you have completed fueling, the first thing you should do is open the hatch to your engine room. Immediately stick your nose down into the engine room, sniff, and look around. Your best first line of protection is your nose and then your eyes. Leave the hatch open so that air can circulate and dilute any fumes and take them away. All of this is before you turn on your engine blower.
We are well-aware that most boat manuals and published guidance for fuel omits the routine of opening the hatch and sniffing. That is because bilge blowers electrical motor is incased in plastic and should not expose spark to the air. All wires are supposed to be wrapped or coated to prevent a spark. However, wires that run from the switch on the dash and the electrical connections in the bilge to the blower unit itself are vulnerable. Boats bounce around and pound, and electrical connections can come lose or fray with lots of rubbing. That is why older boats are more at risk
Don’t feel like a boy scout or foolish for following these precautions. Your boat was not built by rocket scientists, and chances are, it is not maintained or operated by one either.
Once your engine room has passed your sniff test, then turn on your engine room blower. Run it for three to five minutes. Now you are ready to start your engine and then place your guests back aboard. Don’t forget to turn it off. We usually do before starting the engine, simply because with the engine running, the blower can’t be heard and may run all day before you hear it.
While fueling probably won’t be the most enjoyable part of your day on the water, with these tips, you can feel good about keeping fuel in your tank where it belongs, and you can enjoy your boat safely.
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