Explosions happen most often after fueling
With the boating season in full swing as well as the number of injuries caused by improper fueling, 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 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.
Before topping off the tank, consider how fuel weight affects towing economy. Gasoline weighs 6.1 lbs. (2.77 kg) per gallon and diesel weighs 7.1 lbs. (3.22 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. In many cases, you don’t need to load it to the gills, as carrying excess fuel reduces hull efficiency. 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 too 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. 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.
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.
If you have a larger boat, 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. 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?
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.
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 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.
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.
BoatTEST invites you to send in your boating “Safety Tip of the Day.” Just email it to: editorial@BoatTEST.com. If you have a picture to illustrate it, please send it along, too.