Fuel blues

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The endlessly skyrocketing price of boating fuel has now become a relentless headache for the American boater. Accustomed to paying no more than two or three dollars per gallon for decades, boaters are now paying more than twice that amount for fuel. As a result, boaters are unable to decide how to adjust to this change.

The entire American boating industry has been built on the principle of low-priced fuel. Millions of registered boats were built and sold on the premise that gas prices would remain relatively low and steady. But that has changed: not only is fuel cost not about to decline, it is still rising.

American boating requires fuel—and lots of it—to satisfy boaters’ insatiable appetite for speed. The greening of boating through the use of alternative energy may come some day, but it is not here yet. It remains a dream on the distant horizon, a challenge made more difficult by boaters demand for speed and the inefficiency of conventional hull design. Alternate renewable energy sources remain unable to deliver the performance offered by gas and diesel. Unless we begin the difficult transition into modifying our ways of boating by slowing down and reducing use, the future of boating as we know it is in jeopardy.

In Europe, boaters have been living with nearly $10-per-gallon fuel for quite some time. I recently returned from Istanbul, where I saw enormous marinas filled with thousands of boats of all sizes. Rather than quitting boating, it seems Turkish boaters, not all of whom are rich, have found ways to deal with the challenges of high fuel cost.

For many years, America has stood strong as the land of plenty. No demand has been left unsupplied. Now, however, it is now becoming apparent, that fuel supplies are finite. The need for inexpensive fuel can no longer be met as it once was.

America’s thirteen million boaters can deliver a strong message to the marketplace by adjusting how we boat and using less fuel. The ball is in the boaters’ court, and we can affect the way the game is played. Boaters don’t have to give up boating by yielding to the marketplace of high fuel pricing. By moderating how we boat, boaters can deliver a collective response that could alter the high cost of fuel.

Other additional fuel-saving measures are available. Keep your boat’s bottom clean, make sure your props are pitched properly and check that the engine is operating at its most efficient level. Most engines operate at 10% to 15% below their maximum efficiency due to the buildup of carbon deposits that normally form in the fuel injectors, carburetors and combustion chambers, as well as on intake valves.

Carbon deposits also increase the octane requirement of gasoline engines. Fuel additives known as detergents can prevent carbon deposit build up and even remove these fuel-robbing deposits to drastically reduce fuel consumption and increase engine performance.

Times are a changing, but boating remains magic. Boaters may be facing some difficult challenges, but they are not insurmountable. We may have to adjust our habits to keep our pastime affordable, but we don’t have to give up our boats. 

- F. Ned Dikmen
Great Lakes Boating Federation

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