Boat Fuel Spill Prevention and Cleanup

Boat Fuel Spill Prevention and Cleanup

Chances are if you’re reading this article you have a boat or know someone with a boat. Ever wonder about the spills of fuel and oil (hydrocarbons) that inadvertently make their way into our lakes? These spills, even if only a few drops each time, add up and can result in negative impacts to aquatic plants, bugs, birds, and fish – not to mention water quality for human use.

So how do we prevent fuel spills and pollution from our boats? There are several handy tools that can be used that should be kept at every dock or fuelling station – private or public. A quick internet search, using the words in bold lettering provided in the tips below, will provide you the names of suppliers of the products who you can order from online. You can also try visiting

  • Put fuel bibs and collars on the fuel nozzle of the fuel hose or Jerry can. These are absorbent pads that are built to wrap around the nozzle or lay against the boat. They are designed to handle several times their weight in spilled fuel but not absorb water. I have seen many fuel stations use rags around the nozzles, which is a good practice, but moving to the specially designed absorbent products is a better practice.
  • Put fuel vent collectors on the overflow vent on the side or back of the boat. Many times fuel will literally gush out these vents that are designed to stop fuel tanks from being filled too much (most boat tanks are only supposed to be filled to about 85% capacity). Although it is extremely important to remain safe from tank expansion and explosions when boating (don’t block the vent and go boom!), it is also important to not pollute. Putting a bottle over the vent to catch spills can go a long way to prevent that dreaded sheen from showing up.
  • Drop a bilge sock or pillow into the bilge area of the boat. Again, these absorbent materials are able to hold several times their own weight in fuel and oil and do not absorb water. That milky white bilge water that pumps out into the lake is often full of nasty hydrocarbons. One sock can last a whole season. Just drop it off at an automotive or boat repair shop for disposal (same for the bibs and collars).
  • Have on hand a few absorbent spill pads and noodles for those spills that got away or are just not seen until too late. These products can be placed around docks or boats to contain spills and then soak them up.
  • Consider keeping a fully stocked spill kit on your dock or near the place people regularly fuel or service their boats. You just never know when one can come in handy and these kits come pre-packaged with most of the items mentioned above plus gloves and other useful items. At the same time, consider keeping a disposal barrel on or near your dock. Mark the location of the spill kit and materials and train people in the safe use and disposal of used spill prevention and cleanup materials.

Never try to disperse hydrocarbons. While bacteria will eventually consume most of the product, aquatic life and water quality will be compromised on the way.

Let’s all play together clean and safe on the water!

Darryl Arsenault, R.P.Bio., BCLSS Director, Okanagan Region. This article originally appeared in the BCLSS Newsletter, Volume 16 Issue 4.

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