Compact and easy to install, this low-cost fuel-tank alarm system can save you big bucks by preventing spills.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler — April 2004
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits any discharge that causes a film or discoloration on the surface of any navigable waterway in the United States. Period. Violators are subject to substantial penalties, including imprisonment.
Chances are you’re familiar with these regulations. That’s because all boats sold in the United States are required to display a 5"x8" placard “in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces or at the bilge-pump control station.” And while these laws pertain principally to the discharge of heavier oils, they also apply to fuel spills.
But even the most careful skipper, owner, or attendant can make a mistake while fueling up, so it’s wise to have a procedure in place that eliminates fuel spills. Just ask Dan Sabatino, the designer of FuelSense, a fuel-tank alarm system, who I ran into at last year’s Norwalk Boat Show in Connecticut.
Sabatino is an avid boater who has been manufacturing gauging, inspection, and measuring systems, as well as custom electronic instruments, for the past 30 years. “I’ve been tinkering around moving things since I was a boy,” he explains, adding that he particularly liked to take apart the family clocks and radios. When it came time for him to choose a career, he naturally went to electronics school but kept alive his love of mechanical things by working on car engines and transmissions in his spare time. Over the years he developed patented fuel-flow gear for commercial vessels as well as other kinds of sensor systems. His FuelSense alarm system is an outgrowth of that experience.
Using a series of magnetic sensor switches tied into an audible alarm, the system will prevent fuel from spilling out of the fuel-tank vent. Once the fuel reaches the sensor, the owner can safely add a set number of gallons without losing fuel over the side. Sabatino made sure he designed the system for simplicity, and to that end there are but three components: a control box, a stainless steel sensor housing, and a magnetic sensor switch strip.
FuelSense can be installed when your boat is in or out of the water and works with multiple tanks. In addition, it is compatible with most tank-gauging systems. An optional low-fuel alarm is also available. As you can see in the accompanying photos, installation is quick and easy.
The sensor strip sits in the housing about an inch off the tank bottom. (The housing is custom-fit to each tank.) As the tank fills, the magnetic float collar rises up through the housing, passing the magnetic switches in the strip. When it reaches the preset level at 95 percent full, the alarm will sound, indicating you are approaching a full tank.
There are no moving parts to wear out like there are in conventional float systems. You can mount the control box, made of ABS plastic and waterproof, anywhere—at the helm or near the fueling site. “I mounted a box under the gunwale on a 38-foot Phoenix because that’s where the owner wanted it,” Sabatino told me, adding that Post, Cavileer, Silverton, Formula, and Carver are currently offering FuelSense with new builds. Retail cost for one system is about $350. Each tank requires its own system.
Once FuelSense is installed, the only part that may need servicing is the sensor strip. Sabatino says that if something goes wrong with the strip, you’ll notice an erratic fuel-gauge needle. “If this happens, we can send out another unit by part number to the customer, who merely has to screw it in and wire up two wires,” he explains.
With this kind of fuel alarm installed aboard your boat, you just might avoid garnering your marina’s Joe Hazelwood Award. Named for the captain of the Exxon Valdez, it’s the kind of disparaging accolade none of us needs and which can end up costing us a lot of money.
Royce Industries Phone: (866) 241-5656. www.fuel-sense.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.