Tag Archives: Maintenance

Bad/Stale Fuel, Dirty Fuel, Wet Fuel and In-Line, On-Board Polishing

trawlerWe have observed Waterway and Bahama sail cruisers operate their boats in very close parallel to the way trawlers operate, and we spend a lot of time among both. A primary topic of conversation is fuel quality — getting it and maintaining it. We have yet to meet one who did not have switchable filters at a minimum and most have in-line fuel polishing which can be run underway or when power is available. Most of these pumps draw around 2 amps.

Since form follows function and so many of us end up motoring for far more of our trips than we might like and are dependent (want to be or not) on power to get us in and out of places and situations where sails just don’t work, it seems the discussion has to end up on what kind of fuel quality systems, not, can one get by without them?

We have been cruising for 40+ years seasonal and full time. We have had 20, 120 and 200 gallon fuel capacities over those years. We have had no less than a Racor 500 2 micron on the diesel boats. We have dual Racor H-leg bypass fuel polishing on the current boat.

Picture 15Fuel polishing will help with dirty and wet fuel. Polishing won’t help with bad or stale fuel — these are physical vs  chemical issues. We know of  a bad fuel incident in Maryland when gasoline was pumped into a (kinda iffy) marina’s diesel supply tank and it was noticed six wrecked engines later. The watermen involved were NOT happy.

Unless the fuel is unburnable for some chemical contamination reason, e.g., gasoline mixed in (not a rare thing on a boat-by-boat basis either), too much additive (not a rare occurrence), etc, burning the fuel through the engine GENERALLY will not be a problem as much as it will be an performance irritant. Also, local pollution ordinances need to be considered. We know of boats stopped for emitting too much smoke. If you don’t want to or can’t burn it through, you will want the services of someone licensed to dispose of it. If an unlicensed service provider breaks the law in disposal, you may well get to share the fine and/or whatever else goes with the penalty. Some locales offer bounties on illegal disposers (much as with refrigerant). We are aware of a spill from this process that ended up being charged to the owner’s pollution liability coverage because of license issues with the disposer, even though the spill was not near the boat.

Wet fuel comes primarily from bad supply, water inflow and condensation. One boat on our last trip south was alongside for several days as they dealt with the results of a water hose being put in the diesel fill — by the owner. If water has made it into the tank, an easily reachable sump (we’ve seen maybe 10 in 40 years) from which it can be slurped is great. We used an engine oil change pump for this. If a sump is not built in then it’s empty the tank and add a filter-separator. Or a polishing system.

If the fuel is getting wet from sucking in humid air into the tank which first condenses on the fuel surface and tank walls there are a few remedies. A chemical air dryer in the vent line can help, but it adds complexity and if it gets wet from liquid water or fuel the vent will cease to be one. A good strategy here is to reduce the volume available for damp air to occupy — by keeping the fuel level topped off.  However, this is not necessarily a great idea if the fuel is bad/stale. Table on this below.

Dirty fuel can be from bad supply or crud accumulations in the tank. I won’t get sucked into the debate as to the degree this is the result of flora or fauna. Suffice it to say, filter, filter, filter. That same pump for water will handle the crud that ends up in a sump. However, vacuum style pumps that use small tubing will choke almost instantly.* Beyond that would be a separate  post on tank cleaning and off-board fuel polishing. [covered very well here] Even if we did not have on-board fuel polishing, we would have two selectable filters. One of our boats under a later owner ended up adrift in the Delaware Bay ship channel because one filter was completely compromised with crud, and there was no second filter.

So what about in-line, on-board polishing?

Picture 13 (2)We’ve been using it for our main engine and genset for 10 years now. The issue hasn’t been power for polishing —  it runs when either engine runs and is powered by the main alternator or the genset via ac/dc converter or solar. We run it independently of the engines when we have been forced to buy less than desirable fuel or if the boat is left to sit for an extended period. We have 200 gallon fuel capacity between two tanks. In 10 years we have removed* around a pint of water from the separators and removed about a tablespoon of dirt.

Key is fuel turn-over. Turn-over at the dock and turn-over aboard. At the dock, we look for fuel suppliers to sport-fishermen and commercial vessels that have additional smaller nozzles and appropriate flow rates for us. “How often do you refill your main supply tank,” is our first question after, “do you have fuel?” If the supplier is really moving the fuel, it is rare to get wet or dirty fuel, but one such place we bought fuel, we found the nozzle stowed in a bucket half full of rainwater.  If it’s an out of the way source, expect water, dirt and crud to get in your tank [Yes, a Baja funnel can help here, but they slow flow rate and extend the amount of time one ties up the fuel dock. If using deck fuel containers. consider a Baja or filter funnel a must even with polishing.]

Turn-over on the boat is a two-edge sword. Here frequent topping off to keep range at the maximum and water vapor condensation at the minimum works against clean fuel. Lets say you started from empty and filled the tank with, you guessed it, fuel too bad to be good but not bad enough to remove and start over. The table below shows how many  top offs by tank percentage fill it takes to really get rid of that fuel. Ten 10% top-offs will add another 100% of the fuel, but 34% of the bad fuel will still be there. It will take 29 ten% top-offs to get the remaining bad fuel below 5%.

Bottom line. To us, fuel polishing is like good ground tackle. It’s a form of insurance and cheaper than the paper kind.

Top Off Table

Top Offs

Sneaky Amps

IPNRight after we installed the satellite TV antenna, we spent several days metering what it meant to us in battery consumption. The antenna and receiver are both 12 volt DC. The number we got was a bit steeper than we hoped for, but not outrageous.

And it was wrong.

Day before yesterday, I noticed all the status lights on the navigation laptop were off, and I knew we hadn’t shut it down. This is a ten year old IBM x40 Pro*. Given the way it has been treated, 10 years seemed a bit soon for it to drop dead, but it’s tech, so there is always the random element. The light on its 12 volt DC transformer/charger was on.

Then I noticed the router, which is on the same bus as the laptop, was frozen in stand-by mode. I touched the laptop transformer…and immediately unplugged it. It wasn’t, “melt things hot,” but it was too warm. My first thought was the after market battery in the laptop had failed.

I fired up the laptop using the 110 v AC charger and the battery was at 2.5%! Yep, failed!

Nope, it immediately began accepting and holding a charge. (Well, at least as well as it had been. Not all after market batteries are created equal, and this one is five years old.)

Apparently, the DC charger failed the day we fired up the satellite TV for the first time. Prior to the satellite TV installation we would have an early morning dockside deficit of about -50 to -60 amp hours (aH) (starting from zero about an hour before sunset). With the new TV antenna-receiver in use this had increased to -80 to -90. Like I said, not great, but not impossible. I attributed it to boat movements driving antenna realignment.

What I know now is the the laptop DC transformer shorted internally. With the laptop now charging off AC, our morning aH deficit is back where we expected it to be, about -5aH more than it used to be.

Clearly at anchor it will be greater than that because more antenna realignment is required.

So once again a battery charger failed us, and I am reminded that once again I need to check current draw on an item by item basis more often than I have been.

We ordered a new charger and will evaluate it here at some point. The ordering process was certainly easy.

*Reading this old x40 review with the current state of the art for digital devices in mind leaves me wondering just how much will things change in the next ten years?

It Sucks, Hooray!

Cond2OK, It “aspirates.” That orange in the photo is rust from non-marine materials having been used to make the condensate trap tray on our otherwise excellent marine air conditioner. (It looks like jiggling gelatin dessert because the AC is running.)


Prior to adopting this lifestyle. A/C usage was periodic and infrequent. Not so now. In Deale and in Brunswick a summer of usage left an orange streak down the side of the boat from where the sump pump drained the condensate overboard. Had to launch the dinghy to clean it off.

IMG_20140414_144321_370Enter the Mermaid Condensator — basically it’s a lab aspirator. It slurps water from the sump* as a result of the low pressure created by the cooling water flow across an orifice. As long as the AC compressor is running, it is. It slurps constantly and silently. Yeah, it’s another filter to check, but no more rust streak.

Cond3*However, this is a new sump — below that hole on the left.  It’s a collection bottle that keeps the condensate from entering the bilge. Spiral Wrap is an excellent way to protect hose from chafe.


The Mermaid comes with excellent instructions and friendly phone tech support should one need them.

The Drip is Vanquished

OLD PUMPSome time ago, the raw water pump rear seal on the Yanmar began to fail. Water dripping from the weep hole (slot) evaporated before I could see it. but the surface corrosion it caused was evident. The pump needed to be replaced but other things intervened.

Yesterday I girded myself for what I thought would be a chore. It wasn’t.

OLD REMOVEDThe original pump bolts came free with a satisfying “crack.” From there I was able to hand spin them free, and I didn’t have to de-tension the belt to remove the pump. The little oil in the splash chamber was easily contained. The gasket left very little to be scraped off. The hoses came free with a few gentle twists. This was going just a bit too well.

ELLI must admit I looked at the pump the day I picked it up from the distributor in Annapolis, but not since. It came with an “ell” attached. Very attached. As I didn’t have a strong enough vise to hold the pump while I twisted. I thought of several kluges — then I remembered Skip’s shop. I called him and we arranged a time…


Not going to work!

It took a 3/4 hour for the round trip to his lovely home and beautiful shop. It took us about about six minutes to remove the ell and replace it with the straight nipple our boat builder had used. [Thanks, Skip.]

NEW PUMPI had the new pump reinstalled and the engine running about 20 minutes after returning to the boat. Much of that time was sponging up the water that had dribbled from hoses and replacing the absorption mats under the engine.

The drip is vanquished.

The golden color reminds me that five of these pumps will pay for one 6hp outboard motor.

Odds and Odds

What? No “Ends?” There are no ends when it comes to maintaining a cruising sailboat. So here are some snippets crammed in between sore back work.

Morning Visitor

Morning Visitor

Seasoning for beans and rice. Nutmeg, Paprika, Thyme, Worcestershire, Goslings Black Seal, Olive Oil, sea salt, pepper. Proportions to taste.

Low Tide Visitor

Low Tide Visitor

Satellite TV up and running

All sewing repairs made.

New dinghy number boards for Florida registration.

Four new Jack-lines made

New lifting harness for outboard — bridle for 6 horses.

Satphone external booster antenna installed and not working properly.

Engine water pump must be replaced.

Check valve must be added to wash down line.

It ain’t all relaxing, folks

OB wan no go be

A rare sight these days.

A rare sight these days.

Over time we have had a variety of outboard motors, starting in ’74 with a British Seagull on our trimaran. It had a tank of puny proportions and the engine had to be allowed to cool completely before the tank could be refilled. But it wasn’t finicky about fuel oil mixtures. Too much oil? Just bluer smoke.

Then came an Evinrude for the 23 footer. Its tank was the standard six gallon metal job with a painful handle, inaccurate gauge, and a rust ring on the deck. It was finnicky! We ended up using labware to measure the oil. We parted company in ’77.

It wasn’t until we downsized to the Cape Dory that we were back to pull starting a Johnson. Same tank issues. But it wasn’t finicky, or we had learned what we were doing, I don’t know which.

We decided small outboard fuel tanks were dangerous and messy enough, when we bought the Sea Pearl, we used an electric trolling motor. But with the Freedom we had a RIB…well for a bit we did. The tubes started peeling away from the hull. I think I was the first person to ever get the RIB up to planing speed which was why this failure hadn’t happened much sooner. We gave it to the Sea Scouts as a project. Same pull start — mixing oil issues, but at least it had a plastic tank. No more rust rings or rubber mats.

We bought a new RIB and four stroke outboard and tank about the time two stroke engines started to be hard to get. No more oil mixing, but it was not delivering the torque the two strokes produced. We sold the Freedom before we got frustrated enough to buy another outboard.

And then, we bought Brilliant Star, and we decided it was time for a new outboard for the new RIB. Unfortunately, ethanol was now being added to fuel, and the outboard succumbed to bad policy. We bought another of the same brand which had been redesigned to accommodate politics, and it ran fine, until the fuel separated into gas, water, and ethanol. It liked the gas, the other stuff not a bit.

Equipment damage aside, one needs to burn ethanol degraded gasoline pretty much the day it comes off the tanker truck. Each day is a clock tick toward problems with starting, running…

We bought a three gallon tank to force us to turn over the fuel faster. Twice we had to recycle rotten gas. Policy saved 0.6 gallon of gas by forcing 10% ethanol on us, and we had to recycle 4 gallons to be able to run the engine reliably. But now with a tank of clean, dry Bahamian gas, woohoo, we actually found out the outboard had as many horsepower as advertised. And then we needed a new fuel hose and tank since neither we had gotten with the OB had been designed for ethanol.

We decided we could go back to a six gallon tank since it was getting easier to find unadulterated gasoline in the US (easier, not easy). Ah, but the EPA had upped the ante. Now we had to buy a non-vented gas can with a fancy-dancy fuel hose with a special pressure regulator and more expensive hose and bulb to work with the tank.

Wrong! Yesterday we launched the dinghy to do our pre-checks for the Bahamas, and the engine started fine — but it would only run until it had sucked a vacuum in the fuel hose between the regulator and the engine. About 45 seconds. It ran just like an engine disconnected from fuel with the high speed run-up and backfire a the end.

And of course the mega supplier of the fancy-dancy hose said…wait for it…

“Its the engine.”

And when the tank heats up in the Florida sun it looks like a rectangular red manatee. How can anyone think a non-vented gasoline tank is a good idea?