When it is time for us to add fuel to our antique craft, many of us take for granted that this is not a complex job.   We have done it all of our lives and never had any problems.   After all, we are just adding a little gas to the tank and why should we be worried about such a small matter in the first place?

Well, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned when adding fuel to your boat as many things that can go wrong when performing this task.  We tend to take a lot for granted, like “what could possibly go wrong?”  I once witnessed a gentlemen, who owned a 25’ 1976 Carver, filling up his gas tank at the gas dock.  His wife was calmly sitting on the motor box while he was removing the gasoline cap from the fueling system.  He then put the gas nozzle into the filler connection and started pumping gas into the boat.  After about 30 seconds of fueling, there was an explosion and his wife (along with the motor box) when up in the air about 15 feet and landed in the water about 10 feet from the boat with the motor box coming down beside her.  A fire erupted in the engine compartment and he quickly extinguished it with his fire extinguisher.

People came out of the bar next to the gas dock to help him.  After making certain that the fire was out, they rescued his wife from the water.  A few more knowledgeable boaters stood around and tried to figure out why this happened.  In summary, he left his ignition switch turned on so that she could listing to the music from her cassette tape player and there was an electrical short in the fuel system and it somehow ignited after refueling had begun.  Again, a perfectly innocent afternoon ruined by not having a pre-determined refueling checklist that should be followed..

Here are some necessary fueling precautions:

Before fueling

  1. Make certain that the boat is securely tied to the gas dock.
  2. Stop engine (s), motors, fans, and other devices capable of producing a spark. Turn off any battery switches if the electrical system has one.  Close all doors, and hatches so that fumes cannot blow aboard and below.
  3. Ask all passengers and crew members not needed for fueling to leave.
  4. Prohibit all smoking on board and in the vicinity.
  5. Have a filled fire extinguisher at hand.
  6. Measure the fuel in the tank(s) and do not order more than the tank will hold; allow for expansion.

While fueling

  1. Keep nozzle in contact with the fill opening to guard against static sparks.
  2. Do not spill gasoline.
  3. Do not overfill.   Filling until fuel flows from the vents is highly dangerous.
  4. For outboards, remove portable tanks from the boat and fill on shore.

After fueling

  1. Replace all fuel caps.
  2. Wipe up any spilled gasoline; dispose of wipe-up rags on shore.
  3. Open all ports, windows, doors, and hatches; turn on bilge power exhaust blower.  Ventilate boat this way at least five minutes – time it, don’t guess.
  4. Sniff low down in tank and engine compartment (s).  If any odor of gasoline is present, do not start engine; continue ventilation actions until odor can no longer be detected.
  5. Be prepared to cast off lines as soon as the engine starts; quickly get clear of the gas dock.

We wish you a pleasant boating experience and an enjoyable afternoon or evening of antique and classic boating.  Take care.


Chapman, Charles F.  Piloting, seamanship and small boat handling, 53rd edition, the Hearst Corporation, 1978, pp. 205 – 206.  

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