Avoiding Fuel Trouble

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Diesel problems usually begin at the tank. Most fuel tanks more than 5-10 years old have accumulated a mix of water, live, or dead bacteria and algae, rust, etc. in the bottom. If possible, use up most of the fuel in your tank, remove the inspection port and visually inspect the bottom of the tank. You may be surprised. If you are confronted by black sludge or water, you’ll need to remove it to ensure you have a clean fuel supply.

To clean your tank, you must first pump out the remaining fuel. This can be accomplished by using a manual fluid extractor (West Marine and Defender sell several models). You need to have access to the entire bottom of the tank so you might have to add additional inspection ports. Using gloves, old sponges, rags and oil-zorb pads, soak up as much of the sludge as possible, then wipe up the remaining residue. After the tank is clean, either you or a fuel polishing company should pump your old fuel through multiple filters before returning it to the tank. Or you can take it to a fuel recycling center

Fuel Tank Sump. The key to checking fuel quality is a manual fuel sump pumps. Each time after fueling I wait ten minutes, then pump whatever has collected in the fuel tank sump into a clear plastic container to check for contaminants. If you need to add a sump pump, a simple alternative is to install brass pipe to the lowest corner of the tank.

Where to Purchase Fuel. A busy fuel dock that pumps a lot of fuel generally has better fuel quality than a quiet backwater fuel supplier. Don’t hesitate to ask the fuel dock attendant when they last drained their water trap and replaced their fuel filter cartridge. If you’re in doubt about the quality of fuel, and if you have the time, purchase a couple liters in a clear container, letting it sit for 10-15 minutes visually checking for contaminants before filling your tanks. If contaminants are visible, run the fuel through a fuel funnel filter at your tank filler.

Filtering Fuel. When I was commuting via Cessna, we used a Mr. Funnel Filter to filter fuel at the fill pipe. It works equally well with any type of fuel. To enable faster fueling I recommend you purchase the largest, highest volume funnel filter you can find.

Fuel Additive. Practical Sailor has done extensive testing of fuel additives, and my take-away was that Biobor JF does a thorough job [even better when mixed with StarTron Enzyme for Diesel, see “Diesel Additives,” PS August 2013]. Its the only additive I’ve used worldwide for 40 years and 25,000 engine hours, and I’ve yet to experience any contamination issues. Practical Sailor’s new ebook on fuel treatments evaluates several formulas (www.practical-sailor.com/products).

Extra Fuel. If you’re departing on a long passage where you expect to motor a considerable amount, consider purchasing non-marine plastic containers, larger, less expensive and frequently more readily available than marine jerry jugs. These can be stowed in deck lockers or on deck lashed to your granny bars, mast or shrouds but can be a hazard in heavy weather.

Additional Pointers. To transfer from a jug to the fill pipe you’ll need sufficient hose. We like clear vinyl to observe flow. Youll need enough hose to reach from the bottom of the container to your deck fill. Another option is outboard fuel line with a squeeze bulb. Make sure your O-ring is intact. If it’s dried or cracked, water can get in your fuel tank, depending on where your deck fill is located. Keep your fuel tanks full, if possible, especially when leaving your boat in storage. Follow your makers filter replacement cycle.

Amanda and John Neal spend seven months at sea sailing 10,000 miles a year while leading sailing training expeditions. The have more than 500,000 sea miles combined experience.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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