Skip to main content

7 ways to ease the pain at the pump

With prices approaching $3 a gallon, following these seven tips can help reduce your fuel bill this summer

With prices approaching $3 a gallon, following these seven tips can help reduce your fuel bill this summer

The headlines shout the news that everyone already knows: Gasoline prices have gone through the roof. And that’s prices at the local self-service station. Imagine how they would read if they were referring to a fuel dock.

Fuel dock operators cite many reasons for the premium boaters must pay for fuel at the dock. In the North, they have to maintain their fuel systems all year but can only profit from them for a few months each season. Some may say that their low volume — compared to gas stations — makes their costs higher. And in rare cases, prices may reflect the fact that they are the only outlet in the area. You can pay their price or top off your Tiara by dragging a truckload of 5-gallon jerry cans down to your boat.

Whatever the reason, with dockside gasoline prices in the $3 neighborhood and diesel not far behind (if at all), finding ways to reduce fuel bills will be on nearly everyone’s agenda this year. While there is little you can do about prices at the pump, there is much you can do to ensure that you make the most of every drop you purchase. Even preventing spills is an economic issue now. At today’s prices every ounce spilled is a dime out of your fuel budget. Here are seven more ways to ease your fuel pain:

1. Drive a slick boat — Bottoms that aren’t as smooth as possible are far more difficult to push through the water, and can drag down performance and fuel economy. A surface that is covered with scum and marine growth can make a dramatic difference in the amount of fuel you consume to maintain a given speed. Under today’s conditions, the cost of hauling out and power washing the bottom can be a money-saving proposition.

Even clean bottoms can be a problem if they aren’t smooth. Blisters in the gelcoat are a sign of deeper problems that should be repaired immediately, but they also cause turbulence that robs power. Older boats often have a buildup of bottom paint that is cratered and ridged where chunks have flaked off, leaving a rough-edged hole that was simply painted over by the next coat. In extreme cases, even the cost of having the surface stripped and repainted can end up saving money — especially in the case of a boat that is used often and hard. And there has been a proliferation of more environmentally friendly stripping methods lately, so it doesn’t have to be the distasteful chore it used to be.

Tops can slow you down and cost you money, too. Motoring for long distances with a full enclosure or camper top erected produces wind resistance that requires extra power and eats up fuel. Protecting yourself from the sun is important, but raise a Bimini and drop the “sails.”

And don’t forget the dinghy. Towing a tender causes drag. If you must take it with you, put it on the foredeck or mount it on the swim platform for long trips. Traditional inflatables can be rolled up and stowed aboard, saving them from being beaten up in your wake.

2. Drive sanely — Jackrabbit starts and high-speed running eat up fuel unnecessarily. Hole-shots may be exciting, but unless you are pulling a skier they just waste fuel and money. In the case of older gasoline inboards and sterndrives equipped with carburetors, opening the throttle rapidly causes a dose of fuel to be sprayed into the engine. Each one costs money. Whatever your power source, maintaining an even, moderate speed over the course of a trip makes a difference.

3. Drive sweetly — You can also save fuel by finding your boat’s “sweet spot” — that combination of speed and running angle that uses the least fuel. For planing hulls, it often is between the speed needed to stay on plane and the engine’s cruising speed (rpm). Conversely, that time just before a boat planes — coming up the hump — usually is the most inefficient.

Many engine manufacturers publish charts that show fuel usage at various horsepower outputs and engine speeds. The same type of data often is published as part of boat tests and can help you save fuel while still enjoying your boat’s capabilities.

4. Drive light — Boats tend to become collection points for gear and supplies that you’d rather leave on board than tote ashore. Every extra pound you carry costs fuel. Check your boat’s nooks and crannies to make sure you’re not hauling more cargo than you need. Liquids often are the heaviest load you’ll carry. Keeping fuel and water tanks topped off unnecessarily wastes fuel. Carrying just 50 extra gallons of fuel or water means you’re dragging around 350 to 400 additional pounds of dead weight. In a displacement hull, that’s ballast. In a planing hull, it’s 400 additional pounds that you have to lift to get on plane.

5. Drive evenly — Load your boat evenly so that it is easier to assume and maintain an efficient running angle. This is important on all boats, but perhaps more critical on smaller ones, where a large, misplaced person or two can have a detrimental effect on how the boat sits in the water, and can interfere with your ability to run efficiently.

6. Drive straight — It may be great fun to wander here and there, darting in and out of coves and enjoying the sights on the way to your favorite spot, but it costs money. Plan your trips with chart in hand to find direct routes to your destination. Or look for passages through protected water that may allow you to avoid the extra fuel you might use pounding through choppy offshore conditions.

7. Drive a keen machine — Make sure your engine is in good operating condition and is equipped with a prop that matches its capabilities. Keeping it tuned is important, but your vigilance shouldn’t end there.

Making sure the engine has an adequate supply of relatively cool outside air is a factor often overlooked. The temperature in the engine compartment can get quite high on a warm summer day, making the air less dense and restricting the engine’s ability to make power. Ensuring that there is a fresh-air inlet as close as possible to the engine intake can make a difference, and may be important enough to warrant the cost of putting one in if none exists.

Diesel engines, especially, need huge quantities of intake air. Many are equipped with paper or mesh intake filters that can become clogged with dust and pollen. The condition is made worse by the oily mist that exists in many diesel engine installations, the result of crankcase vapors being exhausted into the engine compartment. Frequent filter changes, even though they can be costly, will save fuel and ensure that you are getting the most efficient use from your investment.