Look at any waterway in Southwest Florida and you’ll see all kinds of boats. Regardless of your vessel, it’s important to keep in mind the challenges and hazards of fueling it. Bigger boats mean bigger fuel tanks—and that means more fuel to create hazards for our environment and your safety.

Clearwater Beach, Florida, USA - November 10, 2013: Boat refueling station in Clearwater Beach harbour

At the Pump

Gasoline fumes are extremely flammable, and most boat fires and explosions occur either while fueling or immediately afterward. There are plenty of dockside fuel stations in our area, but dock-based gas nozzles tend to pump fuel faster than those at automotive service stations. So, take the proper precautions at the pump to avoid spillage and accidents.

Filling any boat or tank:

  • Have a fire extinguisher within reach.
  • Extinguish cigarettes and any other smoking materials or flames.
  • Turn off engines and all electrical equipment, including radios, stoves, and other appliances.
  • Ditch the cell phone. Static electricity can create a spark, so turn your phone completely off.
  • Don’t rely on hands-free or automatic shut-off features. Attend the nozzle at all times, and never fill your fuel tank to the top. Fuel expands as it heats up, especially in our warm Florida weather, so allow enough room in your tanks for this expansion to avoid leaking fuel into the water.
  • If you have a metal fuel tank, maintain nozzle contact with the fill pipe to prevent static spark and spills. Hold a cloth under the nozzle to catch any drips and be sure to wipe up any spillage that occurs.
  • After fueling, secure the filler cap to prevent fuel from leaking or water from entering the tank.
  • Before you start the engine, open all ports, hatches, and doors to ventilate and run the blower for at least four minutes, then check the bilge for any fuel vapors. Don’t start the engine until you do a proper “sniff test” for gasoline odor on the boat. If your boat doesn’t pass the test, continue ventilating and checking for possible leaks.

Filling fuel cans and portable tanks:

  • Remove them from the boat or truck bed and fill them onshore. This simple step will help prevent dangerous fumes from building up on your deck and around your boat.

Filling inboard tanks:

  • Close all hatches and cabin openings to prevent fumes from getting into interior spaces of your boat.
  • To avoid air locks and sudden spills, be sure your boat is level while fueling. That means having passengers disembark at the dock and leveling your trailer at the service station.

Mind the Gauge

Whether you’re planning a quick day trip or an overnight adventure, take special care to ensure you have enough fuel onboard. Remember the one-third rule: one-third to go out, one-third to return, and one-third for emergencies or dealing with adverse weather conditions.

Increase Fuel Efficiency

Your maintenance and operation practices have a huge impact on your boat’s fuel economy. Here are a few ways to make the most of what’s in your tank:

  • Chart your trips to reduce unnecessary run time.
  • Boating against the tide and wind requires more horsepower and fuel, so do a little extra planning and use them to your advantage instead.
  • Keep your load light and well-balanced to reduce the horsepower required to propel it through the water.
  • Travel at steady, moderate speeds to reduce fuel consumption.
  • A tuned engine, clean spark plugs, and proper timing improve fuel efficiency.
  • Check your propeller. Are the blades clean and in good condition? A damaged propeller provides inefficient propulsion and burns extra fuel.
  • Keep your hull clean and perform regular maintenance to prevent hard marine growth, which creates underwater drag.
  • Prevent stale gas by running the tank to empty before any long periods of inactivity, and always store portable fuel tanks in a cool dry place to minimize condensation.

To Ethanol or Not to Ethanol?

Boaters often find ethanol fuel attractive because it’s less expensive upfront. However, you’ll want to consider three key issues before choosing ethanol-free fuel: phase separation, deterioration of fuel system components, and the overall cost of keeping your boat operational. The jury’s still out on this topic, but you can find additional info about Ethanol fuel.

Report Spills

A small fuel spill can create a film over a large area of water. Even after the film is gone, the presence of fuel in the water continues to threaten the environment, killing fish and other marine life and wreaking long-term havoc in their natural habitat. If you experience a spill, regardless of the amount, be sure to report it to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center. It’s important to perform a quick cleanup—and it’s the law. Report spills to the 24/7 call center at 1-800-424-8802 or 202-267-2675.

Spread the Word

Fueling responsibly is the job of everyone who enjoys our waterways. So, pass these tips on to your fellow boaters to help keep our waters safe and beautiful!

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