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Caution: Fueling your boat can lead to fire

By Staff | Nov 7, 2018

In the previous two columns, we have outlined important tasks boaters should undertake to prepare for the safe operation of their boats. Often, the final “Before-You’re-Underway” task is to fuel the boat.

Whether that entails heading to the local marina or to the local gas station to fill portable tanks, there are safe fueling steps that every boater should and must take. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, most fires and explosions on boats happen during or after fueling. Therefore, Smokey the Bear’s advice, “Only you can prevent (forest) fires,” holds true for boaters as well.

In fact, before boaters head out to gas up, they should take a few precautionary steps, such as check their tanks, hoses and, particularly, fuel line. In the Gulf area’s salty environment, boaters should check for corrosion, soft-cracked-brittle hoses. “When in doubt, pull it out-replace.” Since all gasoline fuels now contain alcohol, which will further deteriorate synthetic fuel hoses-gaskets, make sure your gasoline-powered boat has alcohol-resistant fuel systems components.

Because gas vapors are heavier than air, gas vapors will settle in the bilge of the boat. Therefore, in addition to shutting off engines – and electrical equipment – one must close all windows, ports, doors and hatches before beginning to fuel up.

One very simple, but crucial step is to have crew and passengers – not needed to assist in the refueling – go ashore in case of an emergency. While fueling, boaters need to keep the nozzle in metal-to metal contact with the filler pipe. This will eliminate the chance of static electricity causing a spark, igniting fuel vapor.

During the fueling, a little common sense will help. Estimate the amount of fuel needed and watch the meter on the gas pump. Then, listen to the sound of the entering fuel. One should be able to “hear” when the tank is nearly full.

Then, when the fueling is finished, the captain needs to run the blower for at least 4-plus minutes to rid the bilge of gas vapors. When finished, use the sniff test: “Do you smell any unusual odors?” Be specific and sniff the air near the tanks and engine compartments.

How much fuel? A excellent rule suggested by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is the one-third rule. Be sure to have enough fuel on board so that one-third will get you to your destination, one-third will get you back and one-third is available for emergencies.

Remember, fueling can be the most hazardous part of your day on the water!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.