The weather is nice, the holiday weekend is approaching, so take a little time and make sure your time aboard your boat is safe.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you probably know that during last several years, ethanol has been added to gasoline. This can degrade older fuel lines much faster then anticipated. Even newer hoses don't have quite the same lifespan. Degraded fuel lines get brittle and will eventually leak — and a leaking fuel line is a disaster waiting to happen. If your hoses are more then ten years old (proper USCG-approved hoses are date-stamped when they were made), bend them, squeeze them, and see if they move or rotate on the fuel fittings. If so, they're loose enough to leak. Sometimes fuel hoses are accidentally stepped on and damaged during routine engine maintenance. Run your hand along the hose or use a clean white rag and see if you smell gasoline (or worse, see it). If so, replace the hose using approved fuel line. While there are different types for different purposes on a boat, I recommend using only USCG-approved A1-15 hose. This hose has passed rigorous testing and can withstand a 2.5-minute burn test, which is designed to be enough time to put out a fire or abandon ship before the hose begins leaking. Most fuel-line manufacturers suggest that their fuel lines should replaced every 10 to 15 years even if there are no indications of leaks or damage. Proper fuel-lines are marked as shown, below.
Other places gasoline can leak are where hoses connect to other fittings. Fuel-fill spuds, fuel-tank lines and gas-tank gaskets, as well as carburetor and fuel-pump fittings can leak. Use the clean dry-rag method for these areas too.
Preventing Ignition Fire
Gas fumes by themselves are relatively harmless. But the slightest spark can ignite the fumes with great power, enough to blow the deck off of a large boat or throw crew in the water. The other side of preventing explosions is to have no way to ignite gas fumes that may have built up. Any starters, alternators, or pumps — or any other electrical equipment — in your engine room or generator compartment must state that they are "Ignition Protected." Ignition protection is a standard that makes a product, such as a starter or alternator, safe to be installed in an environment that could become explosive. It means it won't spark, which is all that gas fumes need to ignite. Don't listen to the kid at the auto parts store who says auto and marine parts are all the same — they're not. It costs more to make marine ignition-protected parts, but they may just save your life. If you have any reservations about whether something is ignition protected, replace it. Some pumps that you might consider safe because they're installed on your boat are not necessarily ignition protected. Electric raw water pumps, for example, as well as some pumps used for pumping the bilge may not be ignition-protected. A previous owner could have installed a non-ignition-protected pump that could spark on startup. So check that all electrical parts that go on a gasoline engine (or in a gasoline engine space) have a label that says "Ignition Protected." Note: even power tools used in a gasoline engine space can cause a spark sufficient to cause an explosion! Don't take chances.