Alert

Refueling and Deck Fills

In New Jersey this past summer, there was yet another dramatic example of why you should always be present when your boat is refueled. New Jersey is one of the few states that require attendants and only attendants to pump gasoline at a service station. In this case, the attendant — a teenager — stuck the pump nozzle into a trailer boat's fish rod holder, pulled the trigger, and pumped over 100 gallons into the bilge. The fire department responded immediately and averted a catastrophe. The boat itself wasn't as lucky; the gasoline found its way into the foam core and it was declared a total loss (Claim #11000044).

It's not just fish rod holders that have been involved in people's dangerous mistakes. Most larger boats have three deck fills: water, waste, and fuel (diesel or gas), any one of which has become confused with another. Gasoline has been pumped into diesel fills and diesel has been pumped into gasoline fills. Both have been pumped into waste and water tanks, as well as the aforementioned fish rod holders (and bilges).

To prevent confusion, deck fills should be clearly marked: “Gas” (or “Diesel”), “Water” and “Waste.” But the best defense against mistakenly shoving a nozzle into the wrong hole is for you — and not a guest — to handle the nozzle. If the job must be done by an attendant, look over his or her shoulder to make sure the nozzle is going into the fuel tank.

Refueling, Ignition Protection and Fill Hoses — and Why You Must Open the Hatch and Sniff Before Starting the Engine

Claim #0604041: According to the surveyor's report, an explosion occurred shortly after the boat was refueled. Gasoline had leaked down out of a hole and down the exterior of the fuel pipe and into the bilge. The engine was started and the explosion was traced to an automotive starter that was not ignition protected.

Three things that boat owners can learn from this claim: First, it certainly underscores the need to use only ignition-protected parts on a boat's gasoline engine. Anyone who owns a gasoline powered boat knows, or should know, that a single spark in an engine compartment has the potential to destroy the boat. And — point number two — fill hoses, like any other hose on the engine, need to be inspected periodically. Even though a fill hose only holds gasoline intermittently, it is prone to becoming brittle and cracking as it ages, just like any other hose in the fuel system. The final point is one that should be etched in the mind of every skipper whose boat is powered with a gasoline engine: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS open the hatch and sniff for gasoline before starting the engine. Merely running the blower for five minutes will do nothing to prevent an explosion if there is spilled fuel in the engine compartment.

This Winter, Consider Moving Your Boat to a
Larger Slip

Securing a chubby boat in a tight slip is a precise exercise anytime but it's especially critical in winter when winds can be blustery, tides can be extreme and visits to the marina are less frequent. The best way to protect your boat over the winter is to store it ashore; boats don't sink on land and they can't be bashed against pilings. If you must leave it in the water, however, it's imperative that the slip be well protected and large enough to keep the boat floating freely away from hard surfaces. If the boat is in a slip with marginal room to rise and fall with winter tides, consider asking permission to move it over the winter to a more commodious slip, one that is being vacated by a larger boat that is being stored ashore.

Other tips for in-the-water storage: • Consider doubling up on lines, especially if the slip isn't well protected. • Allow just enough slack in the lines to keep boats a safe distance from the pilings. A “safe” distance includes allowing for some stretching whenever the wind kicks up. • Criss-cross the stern lines to gain more stretch and a finer angle to the piling. • Rigging spring lines fore and aft will help to keep the boat centered and safely away from the dock and outer pilings. • Use chafe protection at the chocks and wherever the lines could be abraded.• Fenders can't hurt, but don't expect fenders to compensate for a poor docking arrangement.

Alcohol, More Alcohol and Gazebos: Another Example of Why Drinking and Operating a Boat Is a Really Bad Idea

As with most late-night accidents involving alcohol, the details of what happened just before the accident were sketchy. It seems that the owner of the boat shown in the photo had to go below, although he wasn't sure why. Meanwhile the boat was rocketing through the darkness at over 30 mph with no one at the helm. Unlike similar accidents, the boat wasn't even being steered by an autopilot.

It crashed onto the beach and finally stopped after wiping out a gazebo (Claim #1105831). Unlike many of the other collision claims involving alcohol, there were no serious injuries.

Are Your Navigation Lights Visible?

On a dark night last summer in Connecticut, a man piloting a small powerboat struck the stern of a much larger sportfisherman that had its stern light hidden by an inflatable dinghy. Fortunately, the rubber dinghy acted like a fender, minimizing damage and preventing any injuries (Claim #02083247).

Aside from dinghies (and jet skis) on a boat's transom, navigation lights have been hidden behind carelessly installed VHF antennas, outriggers, tuna towers and ring buoys. Check your navigation lights occasionally and make sure some new piece of equipment isn't restricting their visibility. Stern lights have to show over an unbroken arc of 135 degrees. Each sidelight has to show over an arc of 112.5 degrees.

Spilled Gasoline And Common Sense

Keeping anything that isn't ignition protected away from spilled gasoline may seem like common sense, but this past summer, there were two more claims, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, that involved spilled gasoline and wet/dry vacs. There have now been half a dozen wet/dry vac claims, and in all cases people were injured and boats were burned.

One of this summer's claims involved a man who was working on a boat's fuel system. Apparently he had worked mostly with diesel engines and didn't realize that even a small amount of spilled gasoline could be extremely dangerous. The second claim involved an owner who was cleaning his boat with a wet/ dry vac when it accidentally ingested gasoline. In both cases, there was an explosion followed by a raging fire.

Wet/dry vacs are not the only thing that can spark and cause spilled gasoline to explode. In July, two men on a houseboat were badly burned when fumes were ignited by a 12-volt pump. The water in the bilge was mixed with gasoline that had been leaking from the boat's engine.

Anything electrical can spark a gasoline fire, so if you smell — or even suspect — gasoline fumes, don't use any electrical equipment until the vapors have been eliminated. If you find more spilled gasoline than you can safely handle in your boat (more than you can easily wipe up with a rag), don't try to clean it up yourself. According to Kenny Athing, a technician with the Fairfax County, Virginia Fire and Rescue, firefighters handle the situation by boarding the boat (in full protective gear) to assess the situation. First, they shut off the battery switch to reduce the chance of sparking. Then, they fill the bilge with foam to suppress the explosive vapors. The boat's owner can then contact a private salvor to clean the foamed gasoline. The latter often will have a compressed air pump to safely remove the gas/foam mixture.


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