Fuel Safety For Houseboaters

July 2006 News By Tony Watson

Let's face it--the last thing the houseboat industry needs is another black eye from overzealous environmentalists. If any segement of the marine market ought to support marina efforts to step up, clean up and lead the way, it is ours. Afterall, we are the one group of boaters who spends the most time visiting our boats at the dock.
Most experts agree that hydrocarbon pollution is extremely costly to the environment-and to marinas.  Fines and cleanup are expensive, especially when considering any dredging costs, hazardous waste removal and downtime.  Fueling operations, spills and bilge pumping are primary sources of pollution.  But marinas can prevent this pollution by following eight simple, safe fueling measures.

1. Write an SPCC Plan.

Marinas storing more than 1,320 gallons of petroleum usually need a Federal Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan (SPCC).  This written document describes steps a marina has taken to prevent petroleum spills and what will be done for any clean up.  It can be drafted by a marina operator but must be certified by a professional engineer.  An effective SPCC plan should be short and easy to understand.  For more information, go to www.epa.gov/oilspill/spcc.htm.

2. Offer Bilge Cleaning Service.

Providing pumpout service eliminates improper bilge discharges and results in added income.  Marinas can utilize portable pumpout systems that roll right to a docked boat or permanent stations.  Funding for installing bilge pumpout systems may be available through government grants.

3. Provide Stationary Fueling Docks for PWC.

Installing stationary docks for personal watercraft helps eliminate rocking and keeps a PWC level during fueling to minimize possible spills.

4. Prevent Unattended Fueling.

Train employees in safe fueling practices and try to staff all fueling operations.  Remove the latching mechanisms from automatic back-pressure shutoff nozzles so anyone operating a pump cannot leave the pump unattended.

5. Catch Drips and Runover.

Place a fuel collar on the pump nozzle to capture drips during fueling.  Devices are available that attach to a boat for catching gas leaking from a fuel vent.  Fuel-absorbent pads kept at a pump can be used as protective mats during fueling, especially when portable gas cans or tanks are filled.

6. Equip Fuel Docks with Proper Containment Booms.

Having a boom on-site helps contain and remediate a spill quickly, which lessens the impact on the environment and marina operations.  A dockside boom should be five times the length of the longest docked boat, and it should be capable of absorbing the largest potential spill.

7. Maintain Emergency Spill Containment Equipment.

Appropriate containment materials must be stored in a clearly marked, easily accessible cabinet or locker.  It should contain absorbent pads, booms, fire extinguishers and a copy of the spill control plan.

8.  Enlist, Encourage and Educate.

Preventing petroleum spills is a team effort involving the marina, tenants and boaters.  Marinas can sell bilge filters or include their installation costs in yearly dock fees.  Provide recognition or incentives for boaters who properly recycle stale fuel.  Post safe fueling rules, distribute literature and conduct workshops.  "Help Stop the Drops" posters and other materials are available at www.boatus.com/cleanwater/outreach/stopthedrops.htm.

Editors note: Tony Watson is product manager for Centek Industries, a leading manufacturer of marine environmental products.  He can be reached at PO Box 3028, Thomasville, GA

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