Skip to main content

Beware At The Pump

If ethanol levels are raised, it could spell trouble for boaters.

If ethanol levels are raised, it could spell trouble for boaters.

In mid-April, President Trump said he was planning to remove summertime Environmental Protection Agency regulations and allow the sale of E15 gasoline — made with 15 percent ethanol — year-round.

The move drew immediate concern from BoatUS, which has long said that ethanol can harm marine engines, decrease fuel efficiency and increase fuel costs for boaters.

Allowing E15 to be sold year-round, the group says, would only add to existing fuel-supply problems that boaters face.

“We think it increases the likelihood that we’re going to have misfueling in boats,” David Kennedy, BoatUS government affairs manager, told Soundings. “For a lot of people, you’re going to the lake. You’ve got the boat, the kids, the dog, all the things going on, and you’re pulling in to fuel up your boat. We’re trying to educate folks to pay attention and really look at what you’re putting in your tank.”

The problem primarily affects trailered boats whose owners fill up at roadside gas stations, Kennedy says.

Every summer, to comply with EPA regulations, gas stations swap out gasoline mixes with higher ethanol content for those with lower ones, changing the choices that consumers have at the pump. The changeover is based on the EPA’s effort to improve air quality. During hotter months, higher-

percentage ethanol gasoline mixes such as E15 become more volatile than those with 10 percent or less ethanol, Kennedy says. As a result, emissions from vehicles filled with higher-level ethanol gasoline during the summertime can increase ground-level ozone more than during cooler months.

That ground-level ozone, according to the EPA, can cause health problems in people, vegetation and ecosystems, which is why the summertime ban on higher-ethanol fuels is in place.


The ban is good for boaters, Kennedy says, because it lessens the chance that they will accidentally run E15 through their boat’s power plant during the nation’s prime cruising months. While BoatUS says that E10 is now found in more than 97 percent of the nation’s motor-fuel supply, any gasoline with greater than 10-percent ethanol, including E15, is prohibited for use in marine engines. Numerous reports from marine-service facilities have the shown damage that ethanol-blend gasoline has caused, Kennedy says. That’s why most, if not all, marina fuel docks look to source ethanol-free or lower-ethanol blend gasoline mixes.

But the majority of boaters, Kennedy says, fill up at roadside stations, which means that most boaters would be affected if Trump’s plan for year-round E15 availability becomes reality.

“Our estimate is that about 90 percent of boats are fueled somewhere other than at a marina,”

Kennedy says. “The average boat is 17 feet long and fits in somebody’s driveway. So you pull up to the pump, the boat is on the trailer, and you fill up the car and then fill up the boat from the same pump.”

In 2016, when the EPA allowed public comment on ethanol-based fuel, thousands of BoatUS members told the government, “No! No more ethanol in our gas,” according to the group. A BoatUS survey showed that 91 percent of members want not only reduced-ethanol fuel, but ideally ethanol-free fuel.

“It decreases your chance of problems,” Kennedy says, adding that where boaters can find the ethanol-free option today, they’re having to pay more for it. “We’re seeing places where it’s 30, 40, 50 cents a gallon more. It’s a real challenge.”

And often, Kennedy says, boaters simply miss the label that is required on gas pumps, telling people that E15 fuel is in use. They pump it into their boats by mistake.

“There is a requirement that there be one label on the pump — think about all the labels on a pump — that says E15, do not use this in your boat or lawnmower, anything other than a 2001 or later automobile,” he says.

Those encouraging the Trump administration to end the summertime restrictions on E15 include the biofuel industry, which says the move will expand the market for America’s farmers, who grow the corn from which ethanol is made.

“We applaud President Trump for embracing a common-sense fix to create a level playing field for cleaner, more affordable fuel options during the summer driving season,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in a statement. “This simple fix allows retailers to offer better options alongside traditional blends all year long.”

Kennedy says that while Trump’s recent comments indicate the administration’s plans, no formal policy has been put forward on E15 — which is why BoatUS is urging boaters to contact their lawmakers about gasoline preferences.

“It’s really an interesting time,” Kennedy says. “It’s hard to know what drives things, or which voices will be heard. We’ve gotten over 5,000 comments in to Congress and the administration about this. People can still go to and comment.”

And no matter what happens with E15 regulations going forward, he says, BoatUS plans to continue lobbying for changes to the existing situation.

“We are not going away on this,” Kennedy says. “They have to fix this problem. It’s a broken policy.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue.



Adding Fuel to the Fire

Gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol is finding its way to gas stations everywhere, and that’s bad news for skippers who fuel trailered boats at the pump.

The Eco-Point of No Return?

Climate scientists release a flurry of reports warning that the Earth and oceans are at a tipping point. Here’s what that means for boaters.


Water Infrastructure Act Becomes Law

President Trump signs the American Water Infrastructure Act, which includes funding for projects that could make boating more convenient for cruisers up and down the East Coast.


A Throwback Idea To Set An Eco-Example On The Hudson River

Five years ago, Sam Merrett saw the Ceres on the Hudson River waterfront and had an epiphany about education, alternative fuels and sailing.


Tragedy Leads Mother To Fight For Mandatory Boater Education For All

The August 2005 crash off Bay Shore, New York, left physical and psychological damage that lingers to this day.


Search for Missing Sailor Reveals Advice for All Boaters

The U.S. Coast Guard spent 11 days searching 350,000 square miles of ocean for an 82-year-old sailor.  He was never  found, but there are lessons to be learned from the tragedy.


The Flammable Fix

New legislation in Maine aims to help boat owners find a safe place to dispose of their expired flares.