Boat owners who refuel their craft from fuel facilities at marinas have a huge responsibility to protect not only themselves, but the surrounding environment. Refuelling can be a dangerous and volatile exercise, which can cause severe injury or even death if something goes wrong. In the past few years there have been high-profile and tragic incidents in both Sydney and Melbourne in which there have been multiple fatalities during boat refuelling.
According to Craig Bone, whose Sydney-based company Petrolink Engineering has been involved in the design, installation and maintenance of marina fuelling installations, all boat owners have a duty of care every time they refuel.
“All fuels, even diesel, have a volatility that can be sparked by the smallest of accidents,” he says. “We recommend that a number of disciplines be exercised every time you refuel your boat.
“Firstly, make sure you know where the master shut-off valve is located near the fuel bowser in case of spills and overflow. Secondly, locate where fire extinguishers are positioned.
“The third observation you should make is the location of a spill kit.” he adds.
Protection of the environment is a major concern for all marina operators and, likewise, marina operators expect their customers to have the same level of care and responsibility when undertaking vessel refuelling.
In addition to these pre-checks, Bone says that common sense also plays an integral role. This includes the following, time-proven practices: • Do not smoke at any stage
• Do not allow yourself to be rushed by other people
• Be alert to the smell of petrol or diesel
• Do not allow people to remain on your boat when refuelling
• Know the capacity of your fuel tanks and be aware of how much spare capacity you have
• You should be able to reconcile the quantity of fuel that goes in with the capacity of the tank
• Make sure your vessel is securely moored when refuelling at a wharf, jetty or pier
• Do not ‘raft up’ – do not tie up alongside another vessel that is refuelling and do not allow another vessel to tie up alongside yours while you are refuelling
• Be certain that fuel is going into the proper fill entry
• Use an absorbent pad or fuel nozzle collar doughnut around the deck fill to catch spills
• Catch spills from the fuel vent with a device like a No Spill
• Maintain a tight contact between the nozzle and deck fill to prevent sparking
• Fuel slowly and listen for a change in tone as the tank fills
• Don’t rely on the automatic shut-off device – marina fuel pumps pump fuel at a faster rate than land-based pumps and often don’t shut off in time
• Resist topping off – as the temperature rises, fuel expands. Fill tanks to 90 per cent capacity to leave room for expansion
• Avoid turning on the switch for the fuel gauge (or any switch) while refuelling. Turning on any electronics while fuelling is dangerous and can increase the risk of sparking.
After fuelling: • Wipe up all spills and drips on deck from the overboard fuel vent and dispose of the rags or wipes properly
• Do not use detergents to disperse a sheen or spill on the water – it’s illegal
• Open ports, hatches and doors to ventilate
• Before starting the engine, operate the blower for three to five minutes
• Sniff bilges and the engine compartment for fumes
• Treat your fuelling operations with care. Limit exposure to fumes and avoid skin contact.
In addition, boat owners should always watch and listen for cues that the tank is nearing capacity and stop pumping before any fuel can escape. And don’t forget, spilled fuel can ruin gelcoat, paint, striping, trim and upholstery. Wipe up spills immediately – it just makes good, clean sense.
Boat owners also have the responsibility to advise marina operators of any concerns they may have, especially in regard to safety and the environment. If you believe that any of the refuelling equipment may need attention, such as leaking or frayed hoses or nozzles, damage to a wharf from craft impact, poor or limited access to fire extinguishers or spill kits, report them to your marina manager immediately.
According to Bone, most marinas have a planned maintenance schedule to ensure that refuelling and safety equipment are maintained to a high level, but boat owners also have a duty of care during refuelling.
“Following simple practices of safety and environmental responsibility during refuelling will make marina operations and the surrounding environment much safer,” he added.