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Most boaters fill their boats’ fuel tanks at roadside gas stations, where the chances of misfueling with E15 fuel may be increasing as more 15-percent ethanol fuel enters the marketplace.

Recreational Boaters’ Challenges with Ethanol Fuels

No love for the corn-ethanol mandate: 83 percent would choose E0 if available

A survey of recreational boaters’ experience with refueling their vessels this past summer shows little love for corn-ethanol fuel blends mandated by the federal government’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The survey was completed by Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), the national advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boaters, to gauge boaters’ use of ethanol-free and ethanol-fuel blends during the peak 2018 boating season. The results identify potential misfueling issues and allow recreational boaters to be heard as RFS policy is being debated on Capitol Hill. Only fuels containing up to 10-percent ethanol (E10) are permitted for use in recreational boats, and anything greater has been shown to damage marine engines and will void warranties.

The BoatUS Summer Fueling Survey identified

  • the boaters’ fuel of choice: About half (49 percent) of respondents said they filled up their boats with E0 (ethanol-free) fuel this summer. However, if they had their choice of fuel, more than four in five (83 percent) would choose E0 (ethanol-free) fuel – if it was available. Forty-one percent reported the availability of E0 has stayed about the same over the last three years. However, by a margin of more than two to one (31 percent to 14 percent), some respondents said the availability of E0 was becoming more difficult to locate over the last three years.
  • boat refueling locations: The survey reported that boaters refuel their boats at a combination of locations both off and on the water. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they refuel their boat at roadside gas stations, followed by on-water fuel docks (50 percent) and filling gas cans or portable gas tanks at roadside gas stations (32 percent).
  • misfueling issues: BoatUS has concerns over potential consumer misfueling as E15 (15 percent ethanol) pump-labeling requirements are minimal with just a small orange warning label on roadside gas station pumps. About half (49 percent) of survey respondents reported being unaware that the use of E15 gasoline in marine engines was prohibited under federal law and will void the engine warranty. More than 4 in 5 survey respondents (84 percent) could not correctly identify the color of the small misfueling warning label required on gas station dispenser pumps that sell E15. Both may be indications that current pump labels are not effective and misfueling could occur.
  • ethanol-related repairs: About one in three of those surveyed (36 percent) reported having been advised that repairs to their boats’ engines and/or fuel systems were required as a result of ethanol fuel.

When it was passed in 2005, RFS assumed that America’s use of gasoline would continue to grow. Since then, however, gasoline usage has not increased as forecast, which today forces more ethanol into each gallon of gas. To keep up with the RFS mandate and avoid hitting a “blend wall” in which the volume of ethanol production would exceed consumption and infrastructure constraints, in 2010 the EPA granted a waiver to allow E15 into the marketplace.

For more information, go to BoatUS is a member of SmarterFuelFuture.

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