With average U.S. gas prices at over $4.50 per gallon, here are some helpful tips for saving money at the pump without having to curb your boating fun this summer.
We held out hope that the recent spike in fuel prices would ease in time for the 2022 season, but the sun appears to be setting on that horizon. There's just no getting around the fact we'll be paying more at the fuel dock this season.
But that doesn't mean we keep our boats parked in a slip or (even worse!) on the hard. We boaters know how to adapt to conditions. To that end, if you want to feel confident you're getting the best fuel efficiency out of your boat, BoatUS has brainstormed 21 fuel-saving tips to help make this season even more satisfying. Some of these are obvious — but we bet there are a few you never considered.
Before Heading Out
- Tune your engine. Hopefully you've done this already, but any gearhead will tell you an annual tune-up and service will improve its running efficiency.
- Match the boat's prop to the boat and activity. Propellers are most efficient when they're matched to the kind of boat you have and what you use it for (towing skiers, fishing, cruising). Ask the experts at a prop shop for recommendations and experiment with different models. The right prop can potentially increase fuel efficiency by 10%.
- Check your WOT. What's a WOT, you ask? Wide Open Throttle. Take your boat out on a calm and quiet day, pin the throttle, and note the maximum RPM the engine reaches. Compare that to your engines WOT rating from the owner's manual, or by contacting the manufacturer or your local dealer. If your engine is unable to reach WOT — or overruns it — you may have the wrong prop and you're not getting the most bang for your fuel buck.
- Check for propeller damage throughout the season. A dinged or broken propeller will hurt your fuel economy, so whether or not you think you clipped something, regularly inspect yours and replace if it's damaged.
- Keep the prop clean. Barnacles and other growth can attach to the propeller, which will create drag, and impact fuel economy.
- Keep a slick hull. For boats that spend a lot of time in the water, green slime, barnacles or stuck-on vegetation can create drag on the hull and force the engine to work harder. In general, we suggest boats in warmer regions be cleaned weekly, while those in colder waters may be able to remain relatively clean for a month or more.
- Measure your fuel flow. Install a fuel-flow meter, which can show you in real time how many gallons per hour your engine is burning, and allow you to dial in the most efficient speed for your boat.
- Upgrade your motor — if you can. With lingering supply chain issues, engines have been hard to come by, but newer engines tend to be significantly more efficient than older models. The fuel savings alone might not be enough to justify an upgrade, but you're likely also benefitting the environment. If your vessel is suitable, there are more options for electric and hybrid propulsion than ever before.
- Join BoatUS (or recruit your boating buddy). Yes, this is a pitch, but it will save you gas money. Members receive exclusive marina fuel discounts at nearly 400 BoatUS Partner Network marinas across the United States that offer BoatUS Members up to 10 cents off per gallon of fuel.
- Refuel smartly ashore. Most recreational boats in the U.S. are trailered and refueled at roadside gas stations, mini-marts and other retailers. It may be wise to enroll in the retailer's customer loyalty or "cash back" program. Just read the fine print on how your discount is delivered. Your credit card company or grocery store may also offer percentage-based "cash back" program on fuel.
At The Dock
- Ditch extra stuff. Take stock of what's onboard; more weight means more drag. Clean out anything you won't need, from extra anchors to old, unused lines and tools. Of course, this does not include safety gear or necessary ground tackle.
- Lighten your tanks. Don't run with a full freshwater or fuel tank unless you absolutely need it. Let's do the math. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, and some freshwater tanks can hold 100 gallons. Gasoline weighs 6 pounds per gallon, so if you don't need a full tank to safely return (you obviously don't want to worry about getting stranded), lighten your load and bring less. Remember the boater's rule of thumb when planning for any outing: One-third of your fuel to your destination, one-third back home, and one-third in reserve.
- Avoid excess idling. It's a common misconception today is that engines need time to warm up. Modern engines are fuel injected, so when you start them, they're ready to safely go within a minute.
- Prevent spills. Self-refueling your boat while it's in the slip at a marina with portable containers may be prohibited due to fire hazard or potential for a spill, and depending on the volume of fuel needed for a fill-up may be impractical. It's also problematic as the risk of fire and explosion goes up when gas is transported in your vehicle. This type of refueling is better suited to small vessels with portable tanks that can be removed, filled at a gas station, and returned to the boat. Regardless of how you refuel, follow all safety guidelines.
On The Water
- Rearrange your passengers. Evenly distributing the load aboard your boat is the simplest way to help your boat run most efficiently when it's well trimmed (roughly parallel to its at-rest waterline, and not leaning too far to one side or the other).
- Get on plane. Most recreational boats run most efficiently when they're on plane, so once you're out of the no-wake zone, safely get on plane as soon as you can. If your boat has trim tabs, experiment with the up/down switch to find the sweet spot where your boat moves most efficiently and achieves the best trim.
- Watch your wake. One sign you're blowing through gas is the size of your wake. While sometimes you have no option, slowing down the most efficient running speed, or to no-wake speed saves fuel. Think of it as plowing a wall of water, versus efficiently slipping over or through it.
- Try slowing down. Yeah, that's a hard one for a lot of us, but in addition to stretching a tank of gas, it's also safer, and can be more rewarding. You'll see more things and have more time to react in the water, such as other boats or approaching traffic.
- Reduce wind drag. A canvas or bimini top is great for protection from the sun, but you can improve fuel efficiency while underway by taking it down if you can. Just be sure to bring — and apply — sunblock.
- Navigate smartly. The ultimate trick to saving fuel, of course, is running your engine less. Travel to closer destinations or drop anchor somewhere nearer to home to enjoy your fun afternoon on the water. If possible, take the shorter route and route trips in synch with current and tide, and try to avoid a lot of banging into head seas. This tried-and-true temporary adjustment has helped many a boater weather the inevitable fuel price crisis.
- Share your outings by "buddy boating." Head out this weekend by inviting the guy in the slip next to you, and then rotate on the next weekend's angling outing. This fuel-saving technique is especially popular with anglers who fish canyons far offshore. Of course, this also improves your social aspects of fishing life as well.