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Boating Basics:
By Rich Johnson

"I’ve been fueling up my boats for years, there’s nothing too it!" I can’t tell you, just how many times I’ve heard this quip at the pump, but I’d love to have a nickel for every time I did! Yes, it can be a simple thing to do, but many of us take for granted filling the tank on land or at sea. The potential for disaster is ever looming when it comes to volatile mixtures and gasoline is no different.

Fueling a boat can cause big trouble and result in fines if done carelessly and is dangerous because vapors escape as the tank fills, and large quantities of gasoline are may be involved. Vapors and spilled gas can reach the bilge where there can be sources of ignition and this is where most boat explosions occur. There are standard precautions everyone should take and steps to follow when at the pump.

CHECK THE SYSTEM. While today’s fuel lines and gaskets are durable and reliable through modern technology, hoses can still wear out, tanks corrode and fittings come loose through the pounding a boat takes. Remember, we’re working and playing in a corrosive saltwater environment, so we have to check for leaks and loose fittings several times over the course of the season. You should check for leaks at strainers, engine fittings and hose lines. When you spot a minor leak, repair it immediately! If you smell gasoline, chances are there is gasoline on the loose. If you have a strong gasoline odor, get everyone off the boat and notify authorities.

FILL YOUR OWN TANK. The first order of business is finding out who’s in charge. You are!! I always pump my own and there’s no one to blame if something is done improperly or sloppily. Do not let your guests lend a hand unless they happen to be a steady sailing or fishing mate. Make sure you set up a procedure for all to follow when you hit the gas docks.

Just because you pull into the gas dock and all the help is wearing the same shirts, doesn’t mean all are capable or proficient in filling the tank. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone has put diesel fuel into a gas tank, or gas into a water holding tank and the most dangerous scenario, putting gasoline into a rod holder! Make sure the person holding the nozzle knows what he or she is doing. The best way to make sure is to do it your self!

DON’T OVERFILL. Know how much your fuel tank holds! It’s simple if you read the owner’s manual. If you buy used practice filling the tank a little at a time. It could be slightly less or more than the manual indicates, due to the way the tank is shaped and installed. Plan outings where the boat is back at the dock before the last quart of fuel is needed. Learn how the sound changes as the tank approaches full. Fill the tank and leave about 5% of the tank’s volume for expansion. Pumping gas from a cool underground tank on a hot summer day, will cause gas to expand and possibly leak from the vent after you’ve left the dock. You are still responsible for this leakage.

THE ENVIRONMENT. Allowing fuel to spill into the water through the vent, just to check for a full tank is illegal in most places and can result in high clean up costs, environmental assessments and fines. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a boat owner must report even the smallest spill to the National Pollution Response Center @ 1-800-424-8802. Failure to do so can result in a hefty fine. You must also notify the NYS Dept. of Environment Conservation Spill response team. See you on the water!


Eliminate the risk of injury. Ask guests to step off until fueling is complete and there is no trace of vapors.

Eliminate all sources of ignition. Turn off galley stoves, BBQ’s, etc. and don’t smoke! Ask for help in safety steps from the dock master.

Reduce risk by shutting down all electrical sources and turn battery switches to off.

Close up the boat. Gas vapors are heavier than air and escaping vapors can "float" into the hatches and ports of a boat.

Keep the nozzle in contact with the fill neck, preventing static electricity from causing a spark.

Stop pumping when close to full. If pumped to the fullest, gas will stand in the fill hose, which is not designed to hold fuel for storage.

Tighten fill cap, wipe up spillage on deck and dispose of rags on shore.

Open doors and hatches to ventilate spaces while under way.

Run blowers for at least five (5) minutes, as you do starting engines.

Check for vapors by sniffing the lower compartments of the boat. Your nose is the best fume detection device.


Copyright May 6, 1995-2020 The Fishing Line

"The Fishing Line" and "The Fishing Line" & Design, are registered Trademarks of Richard Johnson.  They may not be reproduced, copied, represented or used in any manner, shape or form. The contents of this web site are copyrighted by Richard Johnson & RJ Productions and may not be reproduced, copied, reprinted or sold in any manner, shape or form, under penalty of law.