Refuelling a boat or jet ski

Liliana Engelhardt & Mark Rothfield
There’s a bit more to topping up the tank than cruising up to a bowser and filling 'er up – here are our top tips for safe refuelling of boats and jet skis.

Before any trip, no matter how short you plan to head out, check how much fuel is in the tank – the last cruise might have used more than you thought, and there’s always a chance that you might stay out longer or travel farther than planned.

Consider refuelling straight after each trip, and keep a logbook with how much you’ve tanked as well as the trip details (distance, conditions etc) – this information is useful when calculating your boat or jet ski’s fuel consumption. Additionally, a full fuel tank will help reduce condensation build-up in the tank.

Make a habit of calculating how much fuel you’ll need to get to your destination and return with a third in reserve – think: one-third out, one-third back, one-third in reserve.

  • Consider the conditions when calculating fuel use – for example, running against wind and tide will burn more fuel, as will driving at higher speeds or powering through choppy water
  • Check where fuel facilities are on your route and whether they’ll be open when you expect to arrive
  • Trailerboats and jet skis can be refuelled at a petrol station on the way to/from the ramp, and boats kept in marina storage or on the water can use a marina’s fuel facility
  • Some major waterways have public fuel facilities, which you’ll find on a map
  • It goes without saying that fuel of any kind is flammable and volatile – treat with caution and always be safe.

Those new to boating might think these steps are unnecessary if they have a full tank and the conditions are ideal, but just ask an experienced boater or marine rescue crew: when it comes to boating, there’s no such thing as being overprepared, and flat batteries or empty fuel tanks are a common cause of rescue call-outs.

  • Don’t ‘raft up’ (ie: don’t tie up alongside) to another vessel that is at the fuel facility, and don’t allow another vessel to tie up alongside yours
  • Ensure the boat or jet ski is securely tied to the fuel wharf, or the trailer is correctly stopped at the petrol station bowser
  • Have everyone leave the boat or jet ski and ensure they’re at a safe distance
  • Have your fire extinguisher or fire blanket nearby, if possible
  • Don’t let anyone rush you
  • Don’t smoke or vape at any stage
  • Turn off all sources of flame and heat such as pilot lights and electrical equipment
  • Don’t turn on the fuel gauge switch (or any switch) while refuelling – turning on any electronics while fuelling can increase the risk of sparking
  • Close all hatches and doors to avoid fumes entering enclosed areas, or areas where fumes might accumulate
  • Check that the fuel is going into the correct fill entry – not a water tank or other opening in the hull
  • Know your fuel tank’s capacity, and reconcile the amount needed with your logbook’s fuel use (see Trip Preparation above, calculating fuel use)
  • Hold the nozzle steady, keeping it in constant contact with the fill opening to avoid sparking
  • Marina fuel pumps pump at a faster rate than land-based pumps and might not shut off in time, so listen for the change in sound as the tank fills
  • If the pump automatically shuts off when the tank is full, don’t ‘add a bit more’ because fuel expands when the temperature rises
  • Use an absorbent pad or fuel nozzle collar to catch spills, and report spills into water or on the dock to the facility team.
  • Securely close the fill entry
  • Wipe up all spills and drips, dispose of the rags or wipes properly
  • Open ports, hatches and doors, ventilate thoroughly
  • Sniff bilges and the engine compartment for fumes
  • Operate the blower for around five minutes before starting the engine
  • Allow passengers to board your boat or jet ski once you’re certain that it’s safe to do so. If in any doubt, go through your checklist again
  • Don’t let anyone rush you.

Local marine authorities provide excellent publications and advice on marine safety, including refuelling checklists. These can be printed out and kept on the boat for easy reference.

Boats travelling on remote waterways may not always have a fuel bowser handy, in which case you’ll need to carry sufficient reserves in spare tanks or portable containers (jerry cans). There are a number of commonsense rules when doing so, as storing and decanting combustible liquids has elements of risk.

Avoid leaving full containers in the sun or a hot car boot, and refrain from shaking – all of these cause fuel vaporisation and, with plastic containers, expansion.

Refilling your tank should only be attempted in calm waters, with minimal boat movement, and all motors and electrical devices switched off.

  • Only use containers that comply with Australian Standards, and inspect them regularly for leaks, corrosion and cracks
  • When filling the container, remove the lid slowly to release vapours in a controlled manner, and ensure there are no ignition sources (including potential static electricity) nearby
  • Never leave the containers in your boat or vehicle due to the risk of spillage – place them on firm, flat ground, near the bowser
  • Place the fuel nozzle well inside the container and squeeze the trigger gently to initiate a slow release
  • Take care not to overfill and, when replacing the cap, ensure it creates a full seal
  • Vent them as necessary
  • Where possible, store the containers upright and secured in a vented cockpit locker on your boat – not inside the cabin
  • Use a large funnel and/or a pouring nozzle if available
  • Have as few people as possible aboard, and don’t let anyone rush you.
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