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 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.
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.
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.
note about bioremediation
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.
Pads – Look like a cloth diaper. Use them like a
paper towel or sponge to absorb fuel/oil while leaving the
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
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.
for Boaters – Assortment of absorbents including
pads, socks and booms.
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.
it is: This device captures overflow from the
fuel tank vent. It is mounted temporarily on the exterior of boat
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
additional details and a list of the manufacturers and prices
of the products tested, please visit http://www.boatus.com/foundation/findings/findings40/
you know of a new fueling product?
are always looking for ways to help boaters reduce the risk of a
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
non-mechanical products such as sorbents, dispersants, surface washing
agents and bioremediation agents see the Environmental
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.
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.