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The effects of fiberglass on boats

Three quick questions to start this week’s column.

First, do you have an older fiberglass gas tank in your boat, which was manufactured before the mid 80’s?

Second, did you visit Long Island or southern New England during the fall of 2004? Is your engine system not performing up to par or just plain sluggish?

It may seem like a strange combination of the surface, but keep these questions in mind as you read the next few paragraphs.

During the last year, in visits to southern New England during the previous fall, winter, spring and summer, I was extremely surprised by the number of recreational boats, with homeport listed throughout Hampton Roads, which were visiting ports in New England. Mystic and New London Ct. seemed to be favorite locations for vessels of all types and sizes, both power and sail from Suffolk, Franklin, Chesapeake and Hampton to visit. Some of these boats, which were visiting Long Island, seemed large enough to function as small aircraft carriers, with crews to match.

The reason I make the connection between local boats, trips to New England and a sluggish engine is to highlight a Safety Alert contained in the latest edition of the Coast Guard’s Office of Boating Safety’s Waypoints.

In the November edition of Waypoints information from BoatUS highlighted reformulated gasoline, (specifically gasoline which had ethanol, specifically a 10 percent concentration, sold in the Long Island Sound Area) which, according to the same alert, “is causing the additive to “attack” the resin in the old fiberglass tanks. The results are weakened tank walls and bottoms with the potential to leak. Anytime gasoline leaks into the bilge, it presents a significant risk of an explosion.”

The same report continued, “BoatU.S. has confirmed reports of tank wall failure in which gasoline was found leaking into the bilge. It also has reports of a tar-like substance (possibly created from the chemical reaction between the older fiberglass resin and ethanol) causing hard black deposits that damage intake valves and pushrods, ultimately destroying the engine.”

There are several possible indicators that you may have this problem. Waypoints highlighted the following effects:

nSluggish starting, or backfiring engines

nEngines which are slow to start/turnover, which is usually indicates a weak battery.

nEngine which have trouble reaching their advertised RPMs

The bottom line is that if you believe you may have received fuel in this situation that you need to have it investigated. A gas tank whose resin has weakened is a potential explosion hazard and should not be taken lightly.

The report did indicate that as of yet the problems have not spread, although stations in New Jersey may be using a similar type of fuel.

BoatU.S. wants boaters that may be experiencing this kind of effect to report their first hand information to Chuck Fort, who is the Associate Editor of that organization’s wonderful newsletter “Seaworthy”, at CFort@BoatUS.com or by calling (703) 461-2879 ext 3033.

Until Next Week…Boat Safe, Boat Smart…and for all you Naval Academy fans…Beat Army!

Joe DiRenzo III is a retired Coast Guard officer and former cutter Commanding Officer. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he is currently a civilian employee of the Coast Guard and is a nationally published writer on maritime security and terrorism. He was written the Suffolk News-Herald for just under five years.