Ethanol and your boat or mower

While ethanol is fast becoming an accepted fuel for use in cars, some confusion remains around whether it can be used in other engines too, like lawn mowers or boats. The safest place to start is with your engine manufacturer – if in doubt, check with the manufacturer of your engine for details regarding fuel compatibility with ethanol blended fuels(EFBs).

The widespread use of ethanol blended fuels in the US and Europe has forced engine manufacturers to accommodate for them. Very few engines are made only for use in Australia. Virtually all new two and four stroke engines are able to take E10 fuels; E10 can be used in most outboard motors and mower engines that are less than five years old, but many older outboards and older lawnmowers need to use non-blended fuels. The bigger name marine manufacturers now document that up to 10% ethanol is acceptable in their engines.

Marine boats built prior to 1992 are likely fitted with fibreglass fuel tanks and fuel lines which are incompatible with alcohol. Fortunately, newer outboard engines have been designed to be compatible with alcohol fuels. However, boat engines usually last longer than cars and owning and operating a marine engine from the 70’s or 80’s is not at all uncommon – owners of such vehicles should bear their limitations in mind and refer to their manufacturers manuals when choosing the correct fuel for their boat.

Problems that are often cited with the use of EBFs have occurred when fuels containing too high a level of ethanol (i.e. over 10%) were used in an engine unable to take the fuel, or when boaters with a lack of knowledge or information around how to properly manage alcohol-based fuels used ethanol in their boats. Fortunately, these issues can be combatted by equipping users with the right information.

The BAA suggests the following:

1. Follow the engine manufacturer’s fuel use recommendations. Today, manufacturers use upgraded materials that are largely unaffected by properly formulated ethanol blends. This is evidenced by their fuel recommendation comments which permit the use of such fuels in their equipment.

2. Confirm that fuel storage recommendations have been followed. The two main storage tips from boat manufacturers are when storing your boat fill the fuel tank full to 90-95% (allow room for expansion).  Secondly, they recommend the use of a fuel stabilizing additive if the watercraft will be idle for a long period of time. Fuels of any composition can weather or deteriorate in storage. But the best option seems to be using your boat more often – that will avoid the possibility of most problems!

3. Keep the engine in acceptable operating condition by following the maintenance schedule as recommended by the manufacturer. Simple maintenance programs include the changing of the spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel filter and any water separating filters.

4. Utilize fuel system treatment and additives as recommended. Fuel additives help maintain fuel quality and fuel system cleanliness and engine operating conditions. Fuel system cleaners help to remove engine deposits, such as tars and gums, left behind from years of gasoline operation. As ethanol is a very good solvent, regular replacing of the fuel filter once the equipment first operates on ethanol-blended fuels is recommended to collect the years of contaminants collected after constant petrol fuel use.