How To Prevent Fuel Spills


As boaters, we all have a responsibility to correctly fill our fuel tanks and ensure that no fuel spills into the water as this can significantly impact marine life. 

Accidental fuel spills are more common than you may think. What should be a routine visit to the fuel dock can easily turn into an unexpected and unwanted mess if careful procedures aren’t followed. Filling a fuel tank requires precision, and as a result, your full attention. 

» MORE: Clean Boating Guidelines

How To Prevent Fuel Spills

Before Filling Up

  1. Know the maximum capacity of your fuel tank or portable container. 
  2. Check the fuel system for signs of leaks, damage, or corrosion. In terms of safety, this is a potential fire hazard. Additionally, if fuel spills into the bilge, it may be pumped over by the bilge pump.
  3. Look at all fuel hoses for cracks or loose connections. Replace any that are damaged or look suspect. Also, make sure all hose clamps are in place and tightened. 
  4. Place an absorbent material around the fuel pump nozzle when moving it to and from the dock. This will help to prevent splashes of fuel that mark decks and docks - eventually leaking into the water. 
  5. Have a passenger hold an absorbent pad or rag near the air vent. Oftentimes, there is spillage from the vent. You can go one step further and purchase a fuel-vent collection device. It will stick to the outside via suction cups and collect any loose fuel finding its way out of the vent. 


  1. Put the fuel in the correct tank. Some people will accidentally pump fuel into the water tank or rod holder. This would not only damage your boat but the environment as well. 
  2. Only fill the fuel tank to around 90% capacity to allow for expansion from heat. 
  3. Do not rely on automatic shut-off nozzles. Fuel tanks on boats are not pressurized like car fuel tanks, meaning the automatic shut-off nozzle is not as reliable.
  4. Listen carefully as you fill-up the tank. You can usually hear when fuel is nearing the top of the tank.
  5. Pay attention to the pump’s speed. Most fuel docks distribute fuel at a much quicker rate than your local gas station. This is to help bigger boats with larger fuel tanks fill up faster. Don’t let the higher pump speed catch you off guard. 
  6. Position yourself so you can comfortably hold the nozzle to the edge of the fill and see the fuel deck. 

After Filling Up


  1. Always remember to secure the gas cap.
  2. Wipe away any excess spillage and dispose of the rags/pads as hazardous waste. 

Portable Fuel Cans

Transporting fuel with a portable can often lead to accidental fuel spills. To help avoid this, always fill portable fuel cans ashore and on a level surface. Spills are less likely to occur under these circumstances and if they do, it should be easier to clean up. 

What To Do After a Fuel Spill 

Avoiding spills with some basic preventative measures will help to keep our waterways clean. Still, when dealing with fuel, oil, or grease, it doesn’t take much for something to go wrong and cause a sheen on the water’s surface. If this happens, be a responsible boater and contact the designated response team. 

  1. Identify the source of the spill and stop it, if possible. 
  2. Notify the marina or fuel dock. They should have oil absorbent pads nearby that can contain the spill. 
  3. Any oil or fuel that leaves a sheen on the water must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at (800) 424-8802. You may need to provide:
    • Location of the incident
    • Cause of the spill
    • Type and amount of fuel spilled
    • Weather conditions at the location of the spill  
  4. Do not try to fix the problem yourself. Some people try to disperse the spilled fuel with detergent or soap. This will only break down the fuel floating on top of the water into smaller droplets, which makes it harder for professionals to clean and more toxic to aquatic life. Every spill is handled differently, so the Coast Guard should develop the plan of action. 

Share this: