Fueling your boat is often more difficult than fueling your car, and one little mistake can result in fuel in the water before you know it. Spill prevention is very important. In addition to practicing safe and smart fueling techniques, there are a number of products on the market that can help you prevent fuel spills.
A Note About BioremediationThe BoatU.S. Foundation has not verified the claims of the various bioremediating products on the market. Absorbent products such as booms and socks containing microbes are classified as “mixed products” by the EPA. Boaters may use bioremediation products in a contained form (sock or boom) in the bilge of a boat. It is not legal for boaters to use loose or contained bioremediation products on a spill in open water. Only a trained spill response professional can apply mixed products or bioremediation products to an open water spill.
Oil-only absorbent products soak up hydrocarbons – gasoline, diesel fuel, oil, hydraulic fluids – but not water. These products work like a sponge and make spill clean-up easy. Absorbent products come in many shapes and sizes. They can be placed in the bilge to soak up oil, used around a fuel nozzle to catch backsplash or even floated on the surface of the water to collect a sheen.
Most of these products simply absorb the oil and fuel. When saturated, they can be wrung out over an oil recycling bin and reused or disposed of properly. Simple absorbent products are also very affordable, starting at around $1. Some newer, more advanced, absorbents that have come on the market harden into a gel-like substance after coming in contact with hydrocarbons. This eliminates the problem of dripping pads and may allow for easier disposal.
Also new to the market are absorbent products that contain naturally occurring microbes that “eat” hydrocarbons. This approach is called bioremediation and requires the presence of a small amount of water, air temperature above 40 degrees and several days or weeks to be effective. In theory, after given enough time, the microbes will consume all of the oil or fuel, leaving behind clean water. Bioremediating products should help solve some of the disposal challenges but do require time to get the job done.
Spill Kit for Boaters
The No-Spill device is so simple and effective that we believe that every fuel dock should use one. In fact, at only $20, every boater with an overboard vent should own one. And as an added bonus, it also protects the boat’s hull and graphics from unsightly stains and fading caused by spilled fuel.
In addition to using careful fueling techniques and absorbent products, you may want to consider using one of the available mechanical means for preventing a spill. In the spring of 2005, BoatU.S. Foundation Staff evaluated a number of mechanical fuel spill devices ranging in price from about $25 to just over $100. Some devices, like fuel flow meters, can cost much more. Below are the highlights of the devices that were tested. For more detail, read the complete Foundation Findings article.
Fuel Vent Collection
- What it is: This device captures overflow from the fuel tank vent. It is mounted temporarily on the exterior of boat during fueling.
- How it works: It attaches with suction cups over the fuel vent. If a spill occurs from the vent, the device captures any excess fuel, preventing it from entering the water. Any captured fuel can be poured back into the boat’s tank.
- Pros: It is simple and inexpensive, around $20. When attached properly with suction cups, it captures most drips.
- Cons: Although this product comes in 4 different sizes, there are still a few boats that have vents located in hard to reach places or have a hull shape that does not allow for a secure fit.
Fuel Air Separators
- What it is:An inline fuel/air separator is a device installed along the vent hose that prevents fuel from escaping at the vent by the use of a small ball valve.
- How it works: When the fuel enters the vent line the ball valve closes off the vent, preventing fuel from spilling. Our testers found that the bigger the unit, the better it worked.
- Pros:An inexpensive option ranging in price from $25 to $100 that can be installed without professional help. Most models will not require cosmetic changes to your boat. There are only a few moving parts so there’s not much that can go wrong.
- Cons:The boat must have access around the vent area to allow for installation. While fueling, be careful to prevent backsplash from the fill.
Vented Deck Fills
- What it is: This device combines the fuel vent hose (that usually vents overboard) with the deck fill, allowing vented fuel to flow back into the fuel tank. Vented deck fills are installed in place of the factory installed deck fill. Prices start at around $25.
- How it works:The hose from the fuel tank vent is redirected back into the neck of the deck fill itself, so the excess fuel will flow back into the tank instead of into the water.
- Pros:There is no chance of spilling from the tank vent since it is disconnected and reinserted into the fill pipe. If you are a careful observer, you can see and hear when the fuel begins to gurgle through the vent, indicating you are nearly full.
- Cons:These devices are prone to backsplash if fueling at a high rate of speed. Since fuel nozzles are a tight fit, you may experience some “misting” of fuel droplets on the deck as fuel begins to exit the vent and hit the nozzle.