April 2002 — By Capt. Patrick Sciacca
Fuel Tank Failure
|Part 3: Preventive Measures|
But even if you maintain a clean tank, some factors may have determined your boat’s tank life long before you made that first payment. For instance, installation. The tank should not lie directly on the boat’s bottom. If it does, "moisture will get trapped under the tank and cause corrosion," says Appelt. Joey Weller, customer relations manager for Grady-White Boats, concurs, adding that his company sets its aluminum tanks on vinyl protectors mounted to the subfloor, which allows air to circulate around the tank, minimizing moisture. Appelt recommends that tanks sit on metal rails secured to the boat’s substrate. That way the rails will corrode first, giving you fair warning.
Many fuel tanks today are even epoxy-coated outside to help combat the effects the saltwater environment. This may be worth doing in the off season if your boat’s tanks are in good shape. Several fuel tank manufacturers I contacted said they make their own epoxy-based coatings for tanks, but they weren’t eager to reveal the special ingredients. However, there is an over-the-counter product called Gluvit, which is an epoxy-based waterproof sealer that can be painted on and works on aluminum. It comes in quarts and gallons and retails for around $24.99 and $64.99, respectively. Keep in mind this is not a cure-all. The expansion and contraction of the tank will differ from that of the sealer, and eventually the sealer will wear or crack. You can also try coating the tank with WEST SYSTEM® epoxy and fiberglass cloth. But consult a professional before taking on this project.
In the end, you need to employ multiple strategies in the battle to keep the saltwater environment from damaging your boat’s fuel tanks. Fuel conditioners can reduce water and algae levels inside, and keeping your tanks’ exteriors clean, well ventilated, and off the bottom of your boat will help maintain their external integrity. Specifying tanks of monel when you’re building or refitting will ensure a longer life than aluminum but, of course, at a price. Appelt says monel tanks can cost as much as 10 times the price of similar-size aluminum tanks. Well-built fiberglass tanks can also be durable. I’ve seen boats with integral fiberglass tanks more than two decades old that are still in good shape.
No matter what material your boat’s tanks are made of, preventive measures like those mentioned here are necessary to keep them clean and corrosive-free for seasons to come. After all, you don’t want to miss two weeks of boating while someone repairs or replaces your fuel tanks.
Quality Yacht Service Phone: (305) 743-2898. Fax: (305) 743-2898. www.wecleanfuel.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.