Hudson column: Ethanol good for cars, bad for boats

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ethanol is getting in your gas tank whether you like it or not. It likely isn’t a problem if that gas tank is in your car, but ethanol in your boat’s fuel tank will cause a lot of problems.
For instance, your boat won’t run and your wallet will explode.
Primarily developed from corn or sugar cane, ethanol-blended fuel was intended to lower harmful emissions from internal combustion engines and stretch the world’s fuel supply, according the American Coalition for Ethanol. It also burns cleaner and hotter than unleaded gasoline.
But all of ethanol’s benefits fade away when you put it in your boat. The main reason for this is that ethanol attracts water.
Over time, the condensation inside your fuel tank and the water vapor in the air will mix with the fuel. Once the ethanol-blended fuel sits for more than 90 days the fuel and water separate. This is called phase separation.
Cars don’t have this problem because they are used every day. But most boats spend more time on the trailer than they do on the water. Once your fuel separates, your boat won’t run properly, if at all.
Over time, ethanol also will eat away at rubber hoses as well as fiberglass and plastic fuel tanks. The result is expensive repairs that usually entail draining the entire tank of fuel (for which you have already paid,) and replacing the fuel-water separator and the spark plugs. This all comes at a cost of several hundred dollars.
There are three solutions to this problem.
One, use your boat more often.
Two, use a fuel additive such as Sta-bil or Star-Tron, both fuel stabilizers, that are designed to help with ethanol problems, every single time you fill the tank with an ethanol-blended fuel. Or, finally, use only non-ethanol fuel in your boat’s engine.
If you choose the third option, as I have, then your options are further limited by availability. Currently, only Jerry’s Shell Service on Jake Alexander Boulevard and Tamarac Marina on Bringle Ferry Road at High Rock Lake offer non-ethanol fuel. You should expect to pay up to 30 cents or more per gallon of gas for non-ethanol fuel. The benefits far outweigh the costs.
“You can expect increased mileage and reduced expenses on repairs with non-ethanol gasoline,” said Jerry Alligood, owner of Jerry’s Shell Service since 1986.
Alligood said non-ethanol fuel is the way to go with all engines, not just those used in marine applications.
According to Dan Black, owner of Tamarac Marina for the past seven years, owners of personal watercraft such as wave runners will also see a huge benefit from non-ethanol fuel.
“Ethanol is real hard on wave runners because it eats away the fuel lines,” said Black. “That’s the reason we have non-ethanol fuel, because of boats and wave runners.”
In the future, there is the possibility that gasoline will go from 10 percent ethanol, known at the pump as E10, to E15, which is a 15 percent ethanol mixture in the fuel.
This will only make the problems worse for your boat.
In the meantime, you need to take measures to protect your recreational investment until engine manufacturers and gasoline producers come up with a way to make ethanol a blessing for all types of craft, and not just a curse upon the marine industry.
Glenn Hudson is a freelance fishing writer based in Salisbury. Contact him at