Michigan safe and clean boating – fueling tips (Part Two)

Protect yourself and Michigan’s Great Lakes and inland waters by following some simple methods when fueling your boat.

Improper fueling practices while boating can not only place you and your passengers in harm from a potential fire, but can also impact the environment if fuel is spilled into the water or adjacent land.  While Part One of this two part article addressed appropriate practices to reduce the chance of a fire while fueling your boat, this article focuses on the impacts fuel can have on the aquatic environment and what you can do to reduce this impact.

Fuel released into the water can significantly impact the species that rely on the aquatic environment for food and habitat. The microlayer of a body of water, which is where water meets the air, is home to numerous microorganisms and is where heat and chemical transfer occurs. When fuel covers the microlayer, it reduces light penetration and inhibits chemical transfer, which can impact not only the microbes that live in the microlayer, but also can be harmful to the plants and animals that live or eat nearby.

There are three common locations that fuel can be inadvertently released into the water from a boat; from the fuel fill, the fuel vent, and the bilge pump-out. The first and easiest way to reduce fuel spillage is by monitoring the amount of fuel you have in your tank, and only fueling to 90 percent of the fuel tank’s capacity to prevent overfill. In addition, fueling during daylight instead of in darkness allows you to monitor the amount of fuel entering your tank and ensure that there is no accidental spillage. Fueling at a slower rate at the beginning and end of fueling can reduce the chance that fuel accidentally spills out. 

There are devices that can be used to prevent spillage from the fuel fill and fuel vent while fueling.  Taking soundings of your fuel tank during fueling can keep you informed of how much fuel is in your tank, and installing a noise device like a fuel whistle can audibly tell you when you need to stop pumping fuel. Additionally, having fuel absorbent rags around the nozzle and fuel vent can make sure that any accidental spillage is caught (just keep the nozzle in contact with the fuel fill to make sure it is grounded!). There are also fuel collection devices available that will capture any fuel that spills from the fuel vent.

Fuel and oil has a tendency to collect in the bilge either from spillage while fueling or from engine operation. Making sure your engine is tuned will reduce the amount of fuel/oil that enters the bilge, but using an oil-absorbent or bioremediating pad in your bilge can make sure fuel and oil are not released when the bilge pump is activated.

For more information, please visit the Michigan Clean Marina Program website, or contact Josh Gunn, Michigan Sea Grant/Michigan State University Extension Educator.

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