Fuel System Safety
Boating Safety Awareness Series—A Public Service of the National Marine Manufacturers Association
Everyone who owns or operates a boat must practice fire safety. Each year, boat fires and explosions injure hundreds of individuals and cause millions of dollars in property damage.
Many of these accidents can be prevented. Be alert for any deterioration or damage to the boat’s fuel system. Over time, fuel system components wear out. Inspect these components at least annually, especially near the engine where engine heat and vibration can accelerate deterioration.
  • Schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance inspections by experienced and certified marine technicians.
  • Inspect fuel systems at least annually, particularly hoses, connections, filters, water separators and tank surfaces.
  • Before fueling, shut down engines and auxiliary equipment and all electrical equipment. Also, close all hatches and doors on board to keep fumes from entering the cabin.
  • Do not allow equipment or gear to contact fuelsystem components. Monitor side storage areas where fill and vent hoses are often located.
  • Do not store portable fuel tanks in enclosed areas, including the engine room compartment (even though the enclosed area may be “ventilated”).
  • If the boat is equipped with a powered ventilation system, ensure that all blowers and hoses are operational and intact. Verify strong airflow at the vent located on the boat.
  • Take a boating safety course to learn more about fuel system safety and use of a fire extinguisher aboard a boat.
  • Make sure all passengers know where to find the fire extinguishers and how to operate them.
  • Before starting the engine(s) “sniff” the bilges.Actually get down on your hands and knees and use your sense of smell. Your nose can be a great fuel/vapor detector.
  • Operate the bilge blower for AT LEAST FOUR MINUTES before starting an inboard or sterndrive engine. If you still smell fumes, try to locate the source and make repairs. Do not start the engine with fuel vapors present.
  • Before refueling, close all hatches, ports and other openings; shut off engines, motors, pumps, blowers and all electrical equipment; and do not smoke. Fill all portable tanks on the dock. NOTE: THESE TANKS MAY BE UNDER PRESSURE. Be sure to relieve the pressure before opening the fill valve. See the tank manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Always remain at the pump during refueling. DO NOT TOP OFF AFTER THE FUEL PUMP SHUTS OFF. Fuel fill systems for permanently installed fuel tanks should correctly trigger the shut off of the fuel nozzle without spilling fuel when the tank is full.
  • After refueling, wipe up any excess or spilled fuel; open all hatches and ports; and let the boat air out. “Sniff” your bilges again. Operate the bilge blower for AT LEAST FOUR MINUTES before starting the engine.
  • On a boat with portable fuel tanks, make sure the vents can be closed and the tanks have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. Due to variations in how different tanks operate, read the owner’s manual to ensure you are using them properly.
Do not operate your boat until the source of a fuel leak is identified. Have a qualified service technician correct the condition.

Never use an open flame to inspect for leaks.
A detailed inspection of the boat should be performed by a certified marine technician. The inspection and associated repair or replacement of components should include the following:
  • Replace fuel system components if any evidence of cracking, corrosion or deterioration is found.
  • Inspect fuel tanks annually. Pay particular attention to bottom surfaces that may have contacted bilge water. Also, check for tank corrosion or damage from rubbing and abrasion. Closed compartments that contain fuel tanks and engines must be ventilated.
  • Be sure the fuel fill is securely mounted, grounded and located where spilled fuel cannot collect in the cockpit or bilge. Dry and cracked or soft and mushy fuel fill hoses should be replaced immediately. Use only USCG-approved “Type” fuel hoses.
  • Ensure the bilge blowers are working properly. Inspect the ventilation intakes and exhaust port for proper air flow.
  • Ensure heating and cooking appliances on board are secured and operate properly. Refer to the appliance owner’s manual for guidance on inspecting for leaks in valves and connections. NEVER USE AN OPEN FLAME to inspect for leaks.
  • Ensure flammable items are stowed safely and cannot contact cooking or heating appliances or hot engine parts.
  • Ensure fire extinguishers are USCG-approved and in good working order (i.e., gauges register and nozzles are clear).
  • Repair all damaged wires and loose electrical connections that might cause a short in the boat’s electrical system and start a fire.
  • Do not store disposable propane cylinders or charcoal lighting fluid in any areas with components that are not ignition protected.
  • When replacing starters, generators or other electrical equipment, use only UL or SAE marine-type ignition–protected parts. DO NOT USE AUTOMOTIVE PARTS.
Avoid serious injury or death from a fire or explosion caused by leaking fuel or fuel vapors. Inspect system for leaks frequently and schedule fuel system maintenance with a certified marine technician annually.
To find out more about making boating safer—including how you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning on recreational boats—contact:
National Marine Manufacturers Association
231 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 2050
Chicago, IL 60604
United States Coast Guard
Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety
Commandant (CG-BSX-2) Stop – 7501
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20593-7501
American Boat & Yacht Council, Inc.
613 Third Street, Suite 10
Annapolis, MD 21403
This brochure is published by NMMA for educational purposes only and it should not be assumed that all relevant safety information is included herein. NMMA makes no guarantee, representation or warranty, express or implied, at law or in equity, as to the validity, accuracy or sufficiency of the information included in this brochure. NMMA assumes no responsibility or liability for any injuries, claims, losses or damages arising in connection with the use of or reliance on the information included in this brochure.