Boat fueling is not something to toy with

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2003

When you look at recreational power boating as a whole it is easy to identify a few &uot;occurrences&uot; that are more dangerous than others are. One such occurrence is fueling practices.

We all know that if you have any type of motor (except the small ones run by batteries) you are going to need to add fuel. But did you realize that gasoline vapors are heavier than air and can spread very rapidly? Well both statements are true, and are two of the primary reasons that fueling alongside a dock can be an extremely dangerous operation if not approached correctly.

Lets look at some basics. First, many boaters in Hampton Roads love vessels that are gasoline powered. The maneuverability, the ride and the ease of control are all attractive features. There is just something intrinsically enjoyable about brining a vessel up in speed and have it glide over the waves. As the weather gets warm and sunny (we will have a return to sun soon… won’t we?) the chance to get underway and out of the house will be first on the minds of boat owners everywhere.


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Since power vessels are popular there has to be a consideration by the operator on re-fueling. Safely re-fueling a recreational vessel requires careful consideration. It also requires some deliberate planning. To make it easier for both the novice and seasoned sailor the following 10 point checklist is presented for your consideration. (Thanks to for some of these ideas.)

1. Always refuel portable tanks shore-side. The reasons are three-fold. First, filling the tanks shore side allows you to do it in the most stable environment. Second, if you spill some, even a tiny amount, there is a much easier containment. Third, its usually cheaper to do it shore-side.

2. Once alongside the dock ensure you are securely tied to the floating pier or dock. I can relate to you at least three different occasions when I heard about vessels &uot;floated away&uot; from the dock.

3. Switch off the engine. Again, this seems like a no-brainer but I have seen boaters merrily refueling dockside with their engines running. It is sort of like refueling your car with the engine running, both practices are extremely difficult. I was taught in Driver’s Education that you turn off the before you fill your car up. Same idea here.

4. No Smoking. Again, this seems to be common sense. I have even seen attendants at marinas smoking while refueling. Just one spark can create a heck of a problem.

5. Close all ports, hatches and doors while fueling.

6. Don’t overfill your tank. Gas is expensive enough that you don’t want to overfill your tank. More importantly several agencies would not look well on petroleum products being discharged into the water. If this occurs notify federal and state authorities immediately.

7. Open ports, hatches and doors once fueling is complete to ventilate.

8. Turn the blower on, if you have that type of propulsion system for a minimum of four minutes.

9. Once all the above is completed (including wiping up any residue) start the engines.

10. After they have run and that initial combustion occurs then your passengers should re-board.

Refueling is not the hardest evolution power boaters do, but it sure is potentially one of the most dangerous. Careful preparation, a good understanding of your vessel, and a few minutes to ensure everything is secure when your done will allow a boater to arrive at a dock, get re-fueled as safely, quickly and with little problems.

Until next week, remember the Armed Forces serving overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom…and Boat Safe…and Boat Smart!