Trailer Boats and PWC Refueling

Owning a trailer boat has a number of advantages, the most attractive being the freedom to take your boat just about anywhere you want. Larger boats are often limited by geography and therefore unable to explore locations that are off-the-beaten path. On the other hand, a trailered boat or PWC can go just about anywhere your vehicle can tow it.

But boating in out-of-the-way or unfamiliar territory comes with its own set of obstacles. Finding on-water services like marinas and fuel docks can be difficult. You’ll need to plan ahead and perhaps even refuel your boat at a roadside service station before hitting the launch ramp. Whether you are heading for your local lake or cruising to a far-off waterway, here are some things to consider before your next voyage:

General fueling tips :

  • Safety first! No matter where you are refueling, always clear the area of anyone not directly involved with the fueling operation, just in case…

  • Maintain nozzle contact with the edge of the fill to prevent build up of static electricity which can lead to a spark.

  • Portable gas cans, also known as jerry jugs, should always be placed and refueled on the dock or pavement to ensure a good ground and prevent sparking; as well as to minimize the chance of a spill reaching the water. This also applies to removable fuel tanks for outboard engines.

  • Don’t top off your tank. Know how much fuel your tank holds and fill it to about 90%. This provides room in the tank for fuel to expand as the temperature outside rises.

  • Wipe up fuel spills immediately with an oil-only absorbent pad. Wipe down bilge or any interior parts that may have come in contact with fuel.

  • Ensure filler cap is properly secured to prevent fuel from leaking or water from entering.

  • Always store portable fuel tanks out of direct sunlight and keep in a cool, dry place to minimize condensation.

At the gas station:

  • Level your boat; fuel goes in easier and is less likely to backsplash if your boat is level. Adjust your bunks/rollers or lower your trailer hitch if necessary. This can be unmanageable with the boat on the trailer so take note of any needed changes and adjust the trailer without the boat on it after your next launch.

  • We mentioned it before but it’s important enough to repeat - always refill your portable fuel containers on the ground. Even though the bed of your truck seems perfectly stable, static electricity can build up and cause a spark. Prevent this by filling your containers on the pavement to insure a good ground.

  • When filling your tank you want to leave enough room so when backing down the ramp, fuel doesn’t escape from the vent.

  • Check your position when fueling; if you have to look up from the ground to refuel your boat on a trailer it can be difficult to prevent a spill. It may be helpful to get into your boat to refuel it so you can see what you are doing and have greater control of the nozzle. You might also consider carrying a step stool in your car for this purpose.  

At the dock:

  • Always remain with your craft and stabilize it while refueling. The best way to prevent fuel spills is to pay attention when you’re at the pump.

  • Select a calm location to refuel such as the lee of a dock (the side of a dock that is protected from heavy wind and waves). Some marinas also offer drive-on floating docks that provide extra stability. These are few and far between but if there is one near you, take advantage of it.

  • Keep your boat level– Determine where your boat’s natural waterline is and keep it steady while fueling. Move your gear around as needed to keep the boat balanced. Also make sure everyone is out of the boat – you don’t want people moving around throwing off the balance of the boat while you’re fueling. If the boat is level, the gas tanks are level – filling is easier and the fuel is less likely to spill.  

Personal Watercraft - With their smaller size and limited fuel capacity, refueling personal watercraft can present other unique challenges. Here are a few tips specific to your PWC.

  • Since PWCs are low to the water it doesn’t take much for a small spill around the nozzle to end up in the water. With a shorter distance to fall before a drop hits the water you’ll have less time to catch drips than you would with a larger boat. Avoid potential distractions (like talking on a cell phone) in order to keep fuel out of the water and water out of your fuel.

  • Be certain your PWC is tied securely before refilling. If it begins to drift away while you’re fueling the distraction could lead to a spill.

  • If practical, use an oil-only absorbent pad around the deck-fill or underneath your PWC to catch any stray drops of fuel.

  • To learn more about PWC safety take our FREE online PWC Course.

On the road with your trailer:

  • Tow with an empty tank– in the boat, that is. A fully loaded boat can affect your tow vehicle’s fuel economy, and put a strain on your trailer. Fill up your boat’s fuel tank close to your final launch destination.

  • Secure your gear – This applies to jerry jugs and portable gas cans too. Strap them down to prevent shifting and be certain the vents are closed.

  • Support your boat – At six pounds per gallon, the weight of fuel can add up. A fully loaded boat can be damaged by the trailer if it is not aligned properly. Make adjustments to the bunks or rollers as needed.

  • Balance your boat – Remember that the total weight on your trailer includes the boat, motor, gear and fuel. Boats improperly loaded can affect the handling of the tow vehicle. By simply shifting the gear in the boat you can change the tongue weight (the part of the trailer that connects to the hitch on your vehicle) which should be between 5-10% of the total weight on the trailer. The subtleties of balancing a boat on its trailer can be complicated and vary from boat to boat. To make sure that your boat and trailer are adequately situated, ask your local trailer expert or read more about Boat Transport and Trailering here.

Be sure to read our complete list of Safe and Clean Fueling Tips or click here to download the Basics of Fueling brochure.

For more trailering advice check out the BoatU.S. Trailering Club.

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