Running out of fuel on your boat
Running out of fuel on your boat can be inconvenient and sometimes even dangerous. Luckily, you can easily prevent this scenario.
Know your boat’s range
You should know your boat’s maximum range with a full load of fuel.
- Until your experience gives you more precise data, you can calculate your boat’s range by using the manufacturer information on maximum rate of fuel consumption and usable fuel tank capacity.
- Remember that wind, current or an engine problem can increase your fuel consumption.
- Boat gas gauges are notoriously inaccurate. Develop a mental calibration by noting the gauge’s position and how many gallons it takes to fill the tank.
Determine your boat’s optimal cruising speed
Run your boat at various speeds or revolutions per minute for a measured amount of time; measure the amount of fuel consumed. Refer to this information to estimate the amount of fuel needed to run a course at a given speed.
Every powered vehicle has a particular cruising speed at which it operates most efficiently. The literature provided by the manufacturer should guide you in determining this speed for your boat. In general, avoid running at full throttle. For more boats, fuel consumption increases dramatically at high speeds. Experiment with various throttle settings to find the most efficient speed for your boat. A fuel-flow meter can help.
Have a backup plan
Even trailer boaters who normally stop for fuel at a gas station on the way to or from the ramp should know the location of fuel stations in their cruising area. Small-craft charts may list marine facilities. U.S. Coast Pilots and cruising guides will also have this information.
If you carry extra fuel (and you should in case of bad weather or strong currents), store it in approved tanks designed for use in a marine environment. Gasoline weighs 6.1 pounds per gallon, which could add considerable weight to your boat. Always secure portable tanks so they will not move around.
Remember the one-third rule
Leave port with a full fuel tank, and don’t let it go below one-third full. Remember to leave
- one-third of a tank to get there,
- one-third to get home and
- one-third for emergencies.
If you find yourself low on fuel, reduce speed just enough to maintain headway. Don’t run on plane; it uses a great deal of fuel.
Know what to do if your tank runs dry
If your boat runs out of fuel, anchor in a safe location—not in a channel. Don’t drift with an empty fuel tank. Check your chart and estimate your position. Make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket; you can’t pick up a person in the water with a disabled boat.
If you’re a small-boat owner boating on a lake, you can signal to attract the attention of another boater or call the local marine patrol; however, if you are offshore or in a quiet cove, getting help may be more difficult.
If you have a VHF-FM radio onboard, you can contact the U.S. Coast Guard using Channel 16, provided you are in an area the USCG covers. Be prepared to give your location.
The Coast Guard won’t dispatch a vessel unless you have a life-threatening emergency or a commercial service can’t reach your boat within a reasonable time. Instead, it will contact a private towing company or issue a general call to nearby towing companies.
You can also call a towing company yourself on VHF-FM radio, but be prepared to pay for the service either way. You may find towing insurance to be a worthwhile investment.
Become a better boater
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