Fueling Products

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.

Absorbent Products:
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.

A note about bioremediation
The 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.

Absorbent Pads – Look like a cloth diaper. Use them like a paper towel or sponge to absorb fuel/oil while leaving the water behind.
Fuel Bib – Shaped like a small baby bib. Slides over fuel filler neck to catch drips and overflow.
Fuel Collar – Shaped like a donut. Slides over fuel nozzle to catch overflow and prevent backsplash.
Bilge Sock – Looks like an athletic sock filled with absorbent material. They can fit into tight places under the engine or in the bilge.
Spill Booms – Sausage shaped absorbents that can be hooked together to put around a boat, dock or large spill.
Spill Kit for Boaters – Assortment of absorbents including pads, socks and booms.

Mechanical Products:
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 at http://www.boatus.com/foundation/findings/findings40/default.asp.

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.

Honorable Mention: 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.

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.

Staff Pick: For cost, convenience and reliability, the Foundation staff chose the Racor Fuel/Air Separator as the best venting product tested. Whether it’s a small tank on a sailboat, or a large tank on a powerboat, we think it would work well. They retail for a little over $100.

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.

Fuel Flow Meter:
What it is: A fuel flow meter is a computer that helps you manage fuel usage by calculating fuel consumption. It also indicates the amount of fuel used and remaining in the tank.

How it works: Flow meters measure the rate of fuel moving from the tank to the engine via sensors in the line. For boats that have a return fuel line (diesels in particular), this amount is subtracted back out from the original calculation.

Pros: Once calibrated, certain models can provide precise data on how much fuel can go in the tank, helping to avoid any overflow. Because data is real-time, meters help with fuel efficiency by allowing you to find a sweet spot for throttle and tab settings. Fuel computers can also alert you to a potential problem if you see an increase in consumption.

Cons: Fuel computers can be costly. Basic flow meters start at around $200 and some may need to be professionally-installed. Some require time calibrating the flow meter, and a quick read of the manual to understand all of the features.

For additional details and a list of the manufacturers and prices of the products tested, please visit http://www.boatus.com/foundation/findings/findings40/

Do you know of a new fueling product?
We are always looking for ways to help boaters reduce the risk of a fuel spill.
If you know of a product that we have missed let us know.

If you are an inventor with a new product or idea, here are a few resources:

For non-mechanical products such as sorbents, dispersants, surface washing agents and bioremediation agents see the Environmental Protection Agency’s Oil Program to learn more about which products can be used by boater and marinas, and which products are only for oil spill response professionals.

For mechanical products be sure to check the U.S. Coast Guard boatbuilder’s handbook, as well as any applicable American Boat and Yacht Council standards.

©2010-2011, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water