Save Boat Fuel

By Tom Neale

Don't let the dollar signs at the pump get in the way of your boating season. While different boats and circumstances require different tactics to minimize fuel consumption, there's usually more than one trick of the trade that'll work for your vessel.

1. Watch Your Wake

If your stern is digging a hole in the water, you're wasting fuel. Your boat may be unbalanced because of weight distribution, it may be overloaded, and/or it may be running at inefficient rpms for the load, engine, boat, and other circumstances. It's true that you can usually save fuel by running slower, but if you're digging a hole at the slower speed you've chosen, you're probably doing more harm than good.

2. Give Seat Assignments

To keep on an economical trim, don't let everyone sit in the bow or stern, and don't run on a heel (unless maybe if you have a sailboat). Keep safety and stability as an utmost goal as you do this. You may have to experiment to get the right trim, if it's safe to do so. Only move people around while the boat is traveling slowly, or stopped, considering the circumstances.

3. Experiment

Be creative with trim tabs or motor trim for the best ride with the load you have. Usually you can feel this and also tell by the wake. Fuel consumption meters help immensely. Optimum trim-tab position will vary with factors such as chop, wind, rpm, and load.

4. Ditch The Dings

If your prop looks the least bit askew or has any dings, pull it and send it in to be swung and reconditioned by a good prop shop. Just a little deviation in a prop can cost a lot of fuel. Often it's good to send it in every few years for checking even if it appears to be OK.

5. Have The Proper Prop

Ask a good prop shop or experienced engine installer to check if you have the best prop for your rig and usage. Often a motor will come with a standard prop that may not be the best for your boat. Determining this may require experimental running by qualified shop personnel.

6. Run At An Even Pace

Frequent speeding up after slowing down can consume extra fuel.

7. Diminish Windage, If Possible

For example, consider removing the bimini cover or T-top cover, if practical.

8. Pick Calm Days To Travel

Waves and wind can slow the boat and cause more fuel consumption. Even a little chop can slow many fast planing boats. Learn wind patterns for your area. For example, in many areas it's normally calm in the morning but a sea breeze kicks in during midafternoon.

9. Try to Travel With The Wind

If you have a choice as to direction of travel in chop and wind, pick the destination that's going with the chop. If you can, return on the opposite side of the river in a calm lee.

10. Anchor, Or Pick A Closer Destination

You can have all sorts of fun just sitting out at anchor for the afternoon.

11. Check The Bilge Pump

Make sure the float switch and pump intake are located so that they get the maximum amount of water out. Sometimes there's a significant difference in where the water pools while running and while sitting at the dock.

12. Don't Run With Fuel And Water Tanks Full

Liquid such as fuel and water adds a huge amount of weight and therefore consumes a lot of fuel. Figure, as a rough and approximate rule of thumb, 8 pounds per gallon to get an idea. But don't run with partially full tanks if this may sacrifice safety or range that you will need.

13. Lighten Up

Explore your boat for things that you can leave ashore. This could be especially helpful for lighter boats. Examples could include old lines that you don't use, soggy or impaired life jackets and cushions (which should be replaced, anyway), water standing in coolers, water in a bait or fish well, and junked non-working parts that can be stored ashore or ditched.

14. Avoid Bottom Drag

As your hull is moving over a relatively shallow bottom, or close to steep channel walls, it will meet resistance in pushing aside the water, and slow down and dig in, causing fuel waste, not to mention safety concerns. Never let this happen. Slow down. If your hull is a flat planing hull, you may not suffer from bottom drag, but slow down, anyway. You may be about to spend money on a lot worse than fuel bills.

15. Keep The Bottom And Running Gear Squeaky Clean

You'd be amazed at how much drag just a few barnacles or a little grass can cause. This is greatly exacerbated if any of those few barnacles are on the prop. You'll also be amazed at how quickly fouling can grow in many geographical areas, particularly in the summertime. It may take only a week or two.

16. Keep The Engine Tuned, Oil Fresh, And Air Filters Clean

Different engines have different tuning issues, including, for example, computer-controlled ignition, spark plugs, carburetors, fuel pumps, and fuel injectors.

17. ... And Don't Forget!

When buying fuel at our BoatUS Cooperating Marinas save up to 10 cents off per gallon. To find where you can fuel up and save, visit 

— Published: June/July 2012

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