Topping up our Tanks and Engine Maintenance

Topping up our Tanks and Engine Maintenance

Fuelling berth


It’s incredible to think that ~5% of oil and fuel in our waters actually comes from the catastrophic oil spills that make the headlines. Whilst these gigantic spill events are truly devastating for our waters and marine life, a huge source of fuel and oil pollution is caused by oil consumption, accidental spills from shipping and our marine boating industry, in particular. 

Studies show that ~95% of all oil and fuel pollution in our waters comes from everyday re-fuelling and oil leaks - which includes us topping up our boats, or badly maintaining our engines.

Topping up on fuel is one of THE MOST common ways we sailors and seafarers can pollute the environment. With tens of thousands of boats around the world being refilled every day, it’s perhaps no surprise that our collective impact equates to hundreds of gallons of fuel polluting our waterways and oceans all year round.

Oil doesn’t mix with water and when spilled can critically affect species living on, near or below the water surface, and can persist in the environment for months or even years.

It’s therefore incredibly important that we re-fuel with care, making sure we don’t spill a drop.

It’s also important we maintain a healthy engine - keeping our boats running smoothly and ensuring maximum efficiency and the lowest emissions possible, comes about by regular engine checks and services.


Fuel spill from small fishing boat


Let's make sure there are no leaks, that our engines are properly oiled and watered and that any wasted or unused fuel is stored and disposed of correctly, and in accordance with the law (fuel and oil are hazardous waste, so make sure to use the right bins in your boatyard / marina / harbour for any fuel or oil!)

Sailors, here are a couple of tips for safely topping up our tanks and maintaining our engines...


Topping up our tanks

  1. Reduce the possibility of unforeseen movements when topping up. We've found that tying up well to the fuel berth / pontoon and even getting the crew onto the pontoon for a leg-stretch, helps!
  1. Filling small portable cans on-shore instead of from the boat helps to avoid any rocking and surprise boat movements
  1. Keeping a fuel funnel onboard and using when topping makes sure all incoming fuel ends up in the tank


Refuelling boat


  1. It's super important we clean up any spills ASAP and avoid the Fairy Liquid trick, at all costs! Whatever we do, avoid using any washing up liquids or detergents to disperse oil in water. Whilst the oil ‘disappears’, it actually makes the pollution issue worse by sinking oil particles into the body of water, making it more easily absorbed by marine life and living tissues.
  1. Absorbent fuel socks are really useful to have onboard, in case of spills on our decks, pontoon or in the water. Fuel socks look like fabric sausages which soak up fuel from a surface, including from surface water. The socks can then be disposed of properly, on-land. 
  1. Keeping an eye on our tank – unlike overfilling our water tanks, overfilling our fuel tank can be incredibly damaging (and expensive!). Products like fuel whistles can be easily inserted into tank pipes to sing when the tank is approaching capacity – much like a tea pot reaching the boil!

Maintaining our engines

  • Catch drips! Keeping a drip tray under the engine is a very easy way to see if our engine leaks and keeps any spills or drips contained
  • Regularly checking the fuel line for any cracks or damage, is a must
  • Checking our fuel tanks themselves for any damage or corrosion


Boat inboard engine


  • Checking our raw engine water filters – this is one of the most common causes of engine failure, usually by seaweed or another sea-material being sucked in, preventing water from properly circulating and cooling the engine
  • Changing our oil filters ~yearly. When doing so, we need to make sure we catch all drips in a container, to keep the oil out of the bilge
  • Changing diesel filters are another way in which oily contaminants can end up in the bilge – when switching these filters, let's make sure we do so over a container to catch any drips for safe disposal on land
  • If oil or fuel ends up in the bilge, it’s super important to keep it out of the water at all costs. It’s best to remove this contaminated bilge water with a small pump into a container for safe disposal ashore.


Remember: fuel and oil are considered hazardous waste, so let's make sure we use the appropriate bins in our boatyard, marinas or harbours!

For cleaner seas!