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Top Tips for Boat Fueling

For boaters, beginners and old salts alike, a trip to the fuel dock is a necessary evil. There’s no arguing that it can be hard on your wallet, especially in these times, and dangerous for people who don’t know proper technique or etiquette. Experienced or not, it’s great to refresh on these top tips that will guarantee your next trip to the pump goes off without a hitch.

Things to think about ahead of time Before you even approach the fuel dock, you’ll need to determine:

· Which side your fueling port is on
· Whether the hoses look long enough to come across the deck of your boat. Most will be, but you should always assess the situation.
· Whether there is a line at the pumps. If there is, it’s often better to wait a bit than to try and squeeze between two other boats. Here’s a tip. You can use your VHF radio to let the dockhands know you’re in line and give them your boat name. This establishes order and prevents other boats from jumping the line. The dockhands will wave you in when it’s your turn and give you a hand tying up.

Pulling up to the fuel dock

Here’s your first chance to shine. When pulling up to the fuel dock, do a quick survey of the area to make sure there isn’t another boat in the queue. When it’s your turn to pull up, do it at a slight crab angle facing upstream and you’ll glide right into position.

Once you’ve tied up
The hard part is over and now it’s all about safety. This checklist from the National Fire Protection Association will guide you through the steps of what you should do and when:

Before fueling
1. Stop all engines and auxiliaries.
2. Shut off all electricity, open flames, and heat sources.
3. Check bilges for fuel vapors.
4. Extinguish all smoking materials and open flames.
5. Close all fittings and openings that could allow fuel vapors to enter the boat’s enclosed spaces.
6. Remove all personnel from the boat except the person handling the fueling hose.

During fueling
1. Maintain nozzle contact with fill pipe.
2. Fuel filling nozzle must be attended to at all times.
3. Wipe up fuel spills immediately.
4. Avoid overfilling.

After fueling and before starting the engine
1. Inspect bilges for leakage or fuel odors. (If your boat is not powered by outboards, inspect your bilge for any fuel leaks and sniff out any lingering vapors that may be trapped below.)
2. Ventilate until odors are removed. (Turn on the blowers for 4 minutes.)
3. Open ports and windows.
4. When the coast is clear, depart from the dock slowly.

Boat fueling safety at a glance
Boat fueling etiquette (Don’t be this boater)
Have you seen this boater? He races up to the fuel dock, oblivious to the line of boats waiting in the queue. His exhaust bypasses are wide open and rumbling away. The exasperated dockhand rolls his eyes as he asks the boater to shut down before he hands over the nozzle. The boater shuts down then carelessly wraps a line around a cleat and begins fueling. Not surprisingly, there is too much slack in the line, and the boat begins to ease away from the dock. Our champ, with one foot on the boat and one on the dock, has to make a swift decision. He steps both feet aboard, and in doing so asks far too much of the hose, which continues to pump until the boat is surrounded by a colorful iridescent slick. The show ends with the boater having a spirited chat with Harbor Patrol.

We can laugh at this joker, but we don’t want to be him, be near him or his boat. The moral of the story is to always be safe and focused when fueling your boat – not only for you but for everyone and every boat around you. So that you are never that boater, here are a few boat fueling tips:

· Take care when pulling up to the fuel dock.
· Wait your turn. When there’s traffic at the fuel dock, it is often better to wait at a distance than to try and muscle your way in. And, use that VHF radio to call the dockhands to get into queue.
· Stay with your boat. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many boaters find themselves tempted to make a quick dash to the boat store for that “one small thing” they need. Don’t do it. Stay put.
· Consider tipping.– There seems to be a lot of confusion around whether to tip or not to tip at the fuel pump. It’s a gray area for many boaters. Here’s the deal, dockhands at the fuel dock are usually hard workers and very helpful – getting you tied up, assisting passengers off and on your boat, and passing water and fuel hoses. For that reason, if you get great service, tipping is an appropriate “thank you”. But how much? Well, the range is between $5 and $20. And if they help with pump out, that earns them an extra $5. 

Preventing fuel spills (Show our waterways some love) Many of us grew up learning that squirting dish soap into the water breaks up a gas spill. The belief was perpetuated by the famous Dawn “Cleaning Oil Spills” ad. The fact is that doing this only takes the fuel down to the bottom of the ocean where it stays. What we need to focus on is catching spills before they hit the water. That’s why we should always have an oil-absorbing cloth in hand when fueling – cloth diapers work great! Better yet, here’s how to prevent fuel spills altogether:

· Put fuel into the correct tank – not the rod holder!
· Only fill your tank to 95% capacity. This allows for expansion and sloshing as your boat moves.
· Do not top off the tank. No matter how tempting it is, just resist. If you do, your boat’s movement could cause fuel to leak from the tank vent.
· Hold absorbent sheets or pads around the fuel pump nozzle while transferring it from the dock to your boat and while filling. They prevent drips and splashes from making their way to docks and boat decks, or leaking into the water
· Turn down the music and listen. It’s often possible to hear when the fuel is getting closer to the top of the tank.
· Install a whistle in the fuel-vent line. It’s designed to make noise while fuel is flowing. As soon as the tank is full, the whistle stops, letting you know it’s full.
· Remember that pumps at fuel docks fill at a much faster rate than those at the local gas station. So, be vigilant.
· Consistently check your fuel system for leaks. They’re a serious fire and explosion hazard. Plus, if fuel leaks into the bilge, it could be pumped over the side by the bilge pump.
· Replace the gas cap after fueling. This is a surprisingly common oversight. Also, maintain the gasketing around the cap.


What if you have a fuel spill? If it happens, don’t panic, and don’t try to clean it up. By law, any oil or fuel spill that leaves a sheen on the water must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center by calling (800) 424-8802. They will tell you just what to do.

The Takeaway We can all agree that safety is king when it comes to boat fueling. And with the tips mentioned above, you can easily avoid being a fuel dock failure. Plus, keeping our Boat Fueling Safety 101 sheet handy and teaching young boaters proper technique, will help us all enjoy smooth and fuss-free visits to the fuel pump.

Written by: Jo Montgomery