Boaters warned on use of 15% ethanol fuel

New gasoline blend causes problems in boats

To avoid serious damage to their boats, boat owners in New Hampshire and beyond should take caution not to fuel up their tanks with E15 — a gasoline blend that contains 15 percent ethanol that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved for sale for newer cars and trucks — once it becomes available at local gas pumps.

That's the message that the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 80 percent of the boat manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada, is trying hard to get out to boat owners and makers.

The association is taking steps to stop boaters from accidentally filling up their tanks with the gasoline blend known as E15.

The EPA has granted two partial waivers approving the commercial sale of E15 for cars and light trucks manufactured since model year 2001, but does not approve it for use in off-road vehicles, such as boats or snowmobiles, or home and garden equipment.

Locally, no pumps offer E15 yet; in fact, the nation's first E15 fuel pump opened only just recently in Kansas.But the availability of E15 is destined to become more widespread, as the Obama administration has set a goal of helping fueling station owners install 10,000 blender pumps across the country over the next five years. (Blender pumps are fuel pumps that let consumers choose between various ethanol blends.)

To try to prevent consumers from misfueling, the EPA requires E15 fuel pumps to carry labels warning consumers about the types of vehicles that should not use the fuel.But even with the labels, the marine association expressed concern that boaters could accidentally fill up their engines with the blend — and seriously damage their boats in the process.

To stop boaters from using the higher-ethanol blend, the association said it would distribute 100,000 labels to its members to place on boats, warning boaters about the potential dangers of using E15.

Among the problems that can occur with using gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol are issues like stalling, corrosion that can lead to oil and fuel leaks, and damaged valves, fuel lines and gaskets, the association said.

When E10, a gasoline blend that contains 10 percent ethanol, first entered the New Hampshire market several years ago, it offered its share of problems for marine engines, said Christopher Sandell, owner of Nashua Marine in Nashua.

He got phone calls from owners of all kinds of boats with engine issues due to ethanol, including clogged fuel filters and rusting and breaking down of parts.

"It was crazy. It didn't matter if it was a two-stroke engine, four-stroke engine, outboard engine, inboard engine — it affected everybody," he said. "Every phone call I got was the same: 'My engine just bogs.' We still get that today, (but) it's not as bad.

"Ethanol grabs onto and softens the sludge in the bottom of the tank, which can clog fuel filters.

Most of the E10 issues have been "somewhat resolved" now, said Sandell, but E15 could be even worse for the boats."It's just an unknown — it could burn up these engines," he said. "A lot of these engines weren't made for ethanol consumption. They weren't designed around that technology."

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