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I suspect ethanol caused boating mishap

Why do I keep coming back to the subject of ethanol? Because it’s that important to us and our customers! And, I really don’t like what I’m seeing lately.

What got me going today is an explosion and fire aboard a 33 Sea Ray in Tampa Bay last Saturday. The boat was anchored, generator running, some kids below watching cartoons, adults on deck enjoying what boating is all about. Amazingly, no one was killed but, sadly, six remain hospitalized.

Now, for the record, there’s been no official cause established, yet. I am purely speculating here, but my mind is running straight to ethanol. (E10 is prevalent on Tampa’s waterfront.) The boat was 10 years old. I don’t know if ethanol was involved but there’s no denying it could have affected fuel lines or fittings or internal generator parts and so on? Whether ethanol played a role in this or not, we all agree that E10 is a potential problem for our older boats and engines. And now the push is on for higher E15.  

As you know, the price of crude oil and gas at the pumps is rising. It’s due to increasing demand, say some experts. Others say it’s because of the falling dollar. But what’s really bothering me is that these price increases are playing right into the hands of the ethanol producers who are pursuing a waiver from EPA to go from E10 to E15. (See Dealer Outlook from April 28, 2009 for details.)

Growth Energy, a slick name for the lobbying group representing 54 ethanol manufacturers, is telling the EPA that E15 will “increase energy security.” Boy, there’s some real bull! The only thing it will increase is the producer’s revenues which, they admit, have tanked from reduced demand lately. However, here’s my concern: Every time oil and gas prices rise, the cry for more “energy independence” also rises. So, the rising gas prices we’re seeing now will likely add pressure on EPA to grant Growth Energy’s E15 request. In fact, the EPA reportedly says one possibility is that it could approve the use of E15 in some engines but not for others. Good grief, there’s a budding government-made nightmare!

No matter how we look at this, E15 is not an option for boating. Many of you have previously commented on this. Jeff E. Sleight put it well when he wrote: “If I had a dollar for every one of my mechanic accounts of who has complained of gelling issues, I’d be retired from my 32 years in the marine industry.” Amen, Jeff.

WE CAN STOP E15, but only if you, your employees and your customers take action. Simply instruct everyone to go to an excellent Take-Action website developed by NMMA at:  There you just click on the “Take-Action” button and you will find it easy to email EPA telling them to deny the E15 petition. The deadline for making comments is fast approaching so, come on, do it today.


11 comments on “I suspect ethanol caused boating mishap

  1. Jim Coburn

    Agree with your outlook on this, Norm. I’ve sent my letter to the EPA and visited with a couple of legislators. I encourage all associated with the NMBA and the marine finance industry to do the same.

  2. Michael Hunt

    We all agree that ethanol is an issue which will have an effect on our industry, there is no doubt about it. However, I believe if the captain of the 330 Dancer that caught fire in Tampa had followed rule 1 in Boating 101 he would not have had the explosion. That rule? Run the blowers for at least 5 to 10 minutes before starting the boat. Even if there was a leak, running the blowers would certainly have removed much of the fuel vapor and certainly lessened the effect from an explosion to a fire. I sent an email to everyone in our company stressing the importance of blowers after this incident and it should reaffirm what we all know. RUN THE BLOWERS. I appreciate your standing on ethanol but please don’t stretch that facts to serve your cause. Michael Hunt, GSM Boatshed Florida.

  3. Ed Riester

    Norm I totally agree with you on the subject of ethanol. With production costs, taxpayer subsidies and potential damage it is not an answer to our energy independence. I hope our letters to the EPA help.

  4. Brett Shields

    In our family business(Started in 1952) I have never experienced anything like this. The tar-ing up of fuel lines has cost our business more money than I would want to count. Blown up motors, fuel pumps, injectors, vapor separators, you name it are all experiecing failures. The only thing that has changed is fuel. Our customers are still blinded by this whole ethanol problem but are also taking it up the rear or pocket book. It has already affected the marine industry along with other industries that use fuel other than the automotive. Rental companies are seeing a drastic increase in ethanol related problems. All of us need to educate our customers and get them involved to help spread the word. I would like to put Growth Energy and Al Gore (global warming) in our marshes along the Poor Coast of Florida and let the gnats eat them up. Corn belongs on the table with salt,pepper and some butter. Thanks Norm for all you do.

  5. Star Tron

    Where WE are seeing the most impact OTHER than the marine industry is in small engines (chainsaws etc) and Motorcycle/ATV/Snowmobiles. Snowmobile ethanol issues in Maine in particular were horrible this past winter!

    Interestingly enough, most of the ethanol horror story panic calls are almost always from the East Coast… We are currently doing research by mapping major problem areas with humidity/dew point weather patterns. The findings are Pandora’s box.


  6. Stephen A. Hulszier

    I agree with the comment above about blowers. I use an exhaust blower on my diesel auxiliary sailboat, and use it all the time to minimize the temperature rise in the engine compartment. Too bad that blowers available for small boats are such poor quality. I installed a new one last summer that was louder than the engine itself in less than 100 hours. The replacement isn’t much better.

  7. Jerry Nessenson

    The industry needs to put this issue in proper perspective. Other than degrading of old fiberglass fuel tanks (very few still in service), all ethanol related problems that occure when ethanol blended gasoline is used in marine applications can be prevented when the fuel is treated with the proper fuel additives such ValvTect Ethanol Gasoline Treatment that is contained in ValvTect Marine Gasoline (now sold at over 500 marinas) or as an aftermarket product or other fuel additives with similar refinery and engine manufacturer approved chemistry.

    The more concerning problem is the millions of marine gasoline engines (2 & 4 cycle) that would have engine manufacturer warrantees voided if the ethanol content exceeded 10%. Additionally, all fuel dispensing equipment at fuel docks and land based gas stations are “approved” by Unterwriters Labortories (UL) to dispense fuel containing a maximum 10% ethanol. If 15% ethanol were to be mandated the cost to replace gasoline dispensing systems would need to be passed on to the consumer and would significantly increase the cost of gasoline as well as driving many small fuel marketers out of business.

    I belive the industry should include these points in its fight to prevent an increase in ethanol content rather than the impact to a few consumers with 1970 vintage fiberglass tanks.

  8. AnonymousBob

    I respectfully disagree that ethanol problems can be prevented. The ONLY way to prevent ethanol problems is to use fuel without ethanol (still available at some marinas in Florida). Otherwise, the only thing that can be done is to “minimize” the effects of ethanol. The best, and preferred, way to do this is to use the boat. Now, practically speaking, we know that isn’t going to happen. Fuel conditioners and fuel stabilizers are becoming a necessity for boats in an effort to minimize ethanol related problems. There is no miracle cure for ethanol – no, not even those enzyme products. Once you are afflicted, you are done for.

    I would hold off on your judgement about the Tampa Bay boat incident. It’s not a good thing to go throwing stones without all the information. It’s nice to speculate but it doesn’t help the issue.
    Otherwise, please keep up the efforts against E15. If that comes into play, the marine industry will suffer tremendously!

  9. dave boso

    All gasoline made for sale in the US has 10% ethonol, That was mandated by the bunch of libs in congress.. under duress of the farm lobby, now they are going for 15% if they get it your marine engine will be worthless.
    So what we need to do is to make more comments on this blog, get mad at each other, and let the jerks in DC get off the hook. Then we can stand on the beach abd watch the sun set……on our country.

  10. Tom J

    dave boso:
    Who said we can stand on the beach?
    is it really allowed?

    Norm: I thought the same thing about the boat in Tampa
    There is no mention of anyone trying to crank or strart an engine
    with or without blowers. I asume the kids below were in AC as it was very hot that day.

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