Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently
, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Fueling a sailboat safely and efficiently should be easy, right?

Pull up to the pump, fill it up, pay, and leave. Not so fast! This is sailing, and there is a procedure for everything.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Which Side of the Boat?

Just like your car, it’s a good idea to figure out which side of the boat your fuel filler is located, and try to present that side of the boat to the dock.

Stretching a potentially gassy, oily fuel line across your pretty decks and marring them or soiling them is not desirable.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Fuel Dock Etiquette

There actually is an etiquette to resting at the fuel dock.

Try not to take the middle section of a long expanse, but rather, scoot to one end or the other so another vessel also can fit in. This is sort of like parking; when someone parks half in another space and spoils the whole rest of the lot.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Removing the Cap

Once you are securely tied, locate your fill cap key, and remove the cap.

Some of them have a chain to keep them from getting lost, and on many of them, the chain is disconnected. Make sure you know whether or not it is attached. Place it somewhere it cannot possibly be bumped and go overboard, because it will sink.

There are a couple varieties of caps – this one above uses a winch handle to unscrew it. Later I show a waste cap with a flip-up handle contraption.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Planning the Fill

Vericate; that means verify and authenticate, that you are not filling either the “water,” or the “waste.” Filling either of those tanks with diesel would be a catastrophe!

Keep your ignition key in the ignition, because you are going to routinely check to see the progress of the tank level.

Make a quick calculation. How much fuel does the tank hold? What is the needle reading? How much fuel are you going to need?

You are going to want to report this possible figure to the person on the dock running the pump, so they know when to slow things down for you.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Diesel, Please!

When the dock hand arrives, make sure you say “diesel.” Keep saying “diesel” until they say “diesel.” You want to make sure that everyone is of accord. This is definitely not the time to say “gas“ or “fuel.” Say the word DIESEL.

Trust and verify. Double check that they are handing you the diesel pump, and that no matter what color the nozzle is, trace it back to a gas pump labeled – diesel.

Topping off your water or holding tank with gasoline is going to create all sorts of problems. Triple check.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Preparing for the Handoff

While you’re waiting to be handed the hose, locate the air vent. There is a possibility that if the diesel foams up, it will blow out this vent. Be ready to absorb it.

The fuel hose will be passed to you, and it is prudent to hold it with the nozzle pointing upward, and with a bit of absorbent rag in your other hand in case of drips.

When you get a couple inches from the tank opening, turn it over so then also can enter the cavity, and note where the absorbent material is.

Sailboat Have Small Fuel Fill Tubes

Now, one more time, verify that you’re at the diesel pump, and asked the attendant if they have dialed down the flow. If they have just filled up a big sport fish boat that required 3,000 gallons of fuel, you could be sure that the flow is set to something close to wide open.

The fill tube on a sailboat is rather narrow, and the fuel will boil up almost immediately and overflow.

Once you have verified all of this, and made sure everyone is off the boat and running errands for you, begin to fill your tank.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Monitor the Progress

While you are fueling, pay attention to the numbers on the pump. Position yourself or you can monitor the rate of flow.

As you are fueling, keep track of the amount that has been pumped, and when you get within five gallons of your estimated full point, start really paying attention.

Have someone turning the ignition key on and off, and report at regular intervals to you. This is so you can estimate how quickly you are progressing.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Listen As You Fill, and Be Ready for Spills

You will need to listen to the gurgling noise, and continue to listen. The noise you will hear is the same one you hear when your vehicle fuel tank is close to full.

Be ready with the absorbent rags, in case of a boil over, and keep slowing down.

When your tank reads full, or when it will accept no more fuel, it’s time to stop. Hold the nozzle back in the upright position so that any drips fall back inside of it.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Almost Done!

Transfer possession of the nozzle back to the attendant, keeping an absorbent rag in your hand and even pass that along with the nozzle to contain any drips.Locate your diesel tank cap, and replace it.

Thank the attendant, take note of the gallons and price pumped, jot this down in your logbook, pay for your fuel, and don’t forget to tip the fuel station attendant.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently

Check Your Numbers, and Log It

Double check that you were topped off, and note whether the gurgling sound you heard at the end matches up with a full needle reading on your tank indicator. Make note of any discrepancies, and reaffirm that the amount you pumped in was close to what you had estimated.

, Fueling a Sailboat Safely and Efficiently
This log has inch increments – I had to calculate the size of the fuel tank on this boat, convert the size to gallons the tank could hold, then figure how many gallons per inch, and rate of consumption. I made careful note of my speed and how many people were aboard. The difference between three people and 44 people aboard was noticeable.

Jot down in your ship’s log how much fuel you took on, what the price per gallon was, your total bill, sea conditions since your last fill, and any notes about the marina or unusual procedures there.

As you pull away from the dock, start going over in your head how many hours you motored, in what conditions, and what your fuel consumption rate has been for further trip planning.

What to read next: Emptying Your Boat’s Holding Tank


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