Boaters sometimes forget that fueling their vessel can be a bit of a challenge. To begin with, boats often have larger fuel tanks. Dock gas nozzles tend to pump fuel at a faster rate than those at automobile service stations. Plus, gasoline fumes are extremely volatile. Most fires and explosions on boats happen during or immediately after fueling, so take as much care as possible when you’re at the pump.
Also, be sure to keep the marine environment clean by making sure fuel goes only in your tank and not in the water. Without precautions, fuel can drip off the nozzle, back-splash out of the tank, or discharge from the vent due to over-filling or expansion. All these small, dispersed sources can add up to a big pollution problem that threatens the enjoyment of recreational boating for everyone.
It takes only a small amount of a spilled petroleum product to cause a film or sheen over a large area of water. And even after the sheen is gone, the persistence of fuel in the water continues to threaten the marine environment. It can kill fish and other aquatic life and cause long-term damage to the natural habitat.
If you do experience a spill, regardless of the amount, be sure to report it to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center. It’s important to perform a quick clean up -- and it’s the law. To report spills, call 1-800-424-8802 or 202-267-2675. The Center is staffed 25 hours a day, seven days a week.
Finally, whatever your destination, plan to have enough fuel on hand. A best practice is the one-third rule: one-third to go out, one -third to come back, and one-third on hand for emergencies and dealing with adverse currents, winds, or weather.
As is often the case with boating, a considered approach can avoid fires and keep you out of trouble. Follow these rules to avoid spillage and accidents when fueling your vessel:
• If you are filling jerry cans or portable fuel tanks, take them out of the boat and refuel them onshore. This is safer as it will stop dangerous fumes from building up on your deck and around your boat.
• Before fueling inboard tanks, close all hatches and other openings to prevent fumes from getting into interior spaces of the boat.