Refueling Your Boat

Gasoline is very dangerous in boats because the bowl shape of the hull interior traps any spilled or leaking fuel. The closed decks and compartments hold in leaking vapors, creating a fuel-air bomb that is only lacking a spark to turn your boat into a Roman candle.

Diesel fuel is less explosive than gasoline but still highly flammable. Thus, fueling is a business that requires your undivided attention.

Most trailer boats get gassed up at a filling station on the way to the ramp, and this is a good idea because it saves you big on fuel costs. Buying fuel from a marina is usually 15 to 20 percent more expensive than buying it from a filling station. However, at times you will need to refuel on the water, even with a trailered boat. With larger boats stored at the marina or in the water, this is always standard operating procedure. Follow these steps to do it right:

1. Make sure your boat is properly tied to the fuel dock. Nothing is more distracting than having the boat begin to leave the docks with the fuel hose in the filler! Incompetent clearing can make it happen, so if you let Uncle George handle the lines, make sure he knows how to make things stay put.

2. Make sure you put fuel only into the fuel tank. Where else could you possibly put it? On some boats, the water filler cap looks exactly like the fuel filler cap—gasoline shower, anyone? There have even been instances of people pumping fuel into trolling rod holders! How do you know which cap leads to the fuel tank? It has a code on the cap. It says "F-U-E-L."

3. Avoid careless spills, which are both dangerous and bad for the watery environment. Any spilled gas aboard should be wiped up with paper towels, which should then be disposed of at the marina in a metal barrel, not in the nearest plastic trash can.

4. It goes without saying neither you nor anyone aboard should smoke during fueling. That is, it goes without saying unless someone tries it. Better to warn everyone ahead of time. Even if it means putting out that freshly lighted $10 Macanudo.

5. Have someone keep an eye on your gallonage, and slow down the flow rate on the fuel as you get near what you think should be full. Some marina hoses have an extremely high flow rate so that they can fill yacht tanks quickly, but this can mean your smaller tank fills a lot faster than you think it will. Fuel can come shooting back up the fill pipe and drench you.

6. Open all hatches, particularly the engine compartment on inboards and I/Os, after fueling. This is also a good time to check your fuel hoses for tight connections and for deterioration. The slightest seepage should be investigated and corrected immediately.

7. Turn on the blower and let it operate for several minutes. It's a little exhaust fan down in the bilge that sucks out any fumes, pushing them out vents usually located near the transom.

8. Secure the fuel cap. Make sure it's tight enough so that rain and spray won't get into the tank. Some fuel fill caps require a "key" (shown in the following figure), which is a tool that fits into detents in the cap, allowing you to open or close the cap. Can't find the key? Often, the back of the blade of a closed folding knife will fit into the slot and allow you to turn the cap. A quarter can also be substituted on some caps.

9. Sniff for fumes. You can buy $200 fuel fume detectors, but they don't work as well as your own nose. (Just don't do this too much, or it will lower the SAT scores of any potential offspring.)

10. Start the engine. Only when the cap is secured and you're sure there are no fumes should you touch the ignition key.

All of this is not to say that your boat is likely to explode at any moment. Fuel fires afloat are extremely rare. But they do happen, and the results can be catastrophic. You can't simply run out in the street and wait for the fire department.

The fuel key allows opening fuel caps that may be too tight to open with your fingers alone. Caps must be tightened securely to prevent water from getting into the fuel.

In 30 years on the water, I've never had a serious fire, but I've been close. Once a searchlight wire shorted out across both battery terminals. The wire turned red hot instantly and the rubber insulation caught fire. Fortunately, a quick shot from an extinguisher stopped the problem.

All powerboats with enclosed fuel tanks are required to carry one of the various classes of fire extinguishers at all times. See Chapter 17, "Gearing Up for Safety," for details on selection and use.

The Least You Need to Know

♦ Boarding a boat can be tricky—make sure your passengers use care.

♦ Starting the motor is easy if you follow the proper procedure every time.

♦ The trim button is the key to efficient boat operation.

♦ Use special care when refueling and ventilate the boat afterward.

Chapte

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