Ethanol in gas can pose problems for boat owners

Summer for many in Maryland not only means gassing up your car for road trips, but also your boat for some fun out on the water.
 
But the type of gas you put into your boat could also be a reason why it won't start up. The majority of the gas you'll find these days is E10, 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol. This blend runs fine in boats that are used frequently. But boat mechanics say it can cause problems if left sitting for long periods of time in a boat's fuel tank.
 
Terry Martin, owner of Intercoastal Marine in Middle River said he sees this problem all the time.
 
"One out of every 10 boats, we have to pump the gas tank down, because of water in the gas," he said.
 
The water is attracted by the ethanol in the gas. If left in a boat's tank for several months, ethanol can absorb moisture and go through what's called a phase separation. The gasoline separates from the ethanol and water and renders the fuel useless. It then has to be pumped out of the boat.
 
 
"All the rain we had in the spring, there was a lot of moisture in the air as it's raining around the boat," Martin said. "The ethanol is like a sponge, it's just absorbing the moisture."
 
It's an issue that is likely here to stay. Most all widely available gas in the United States is E10.
 
"It's not in this area, finding pure gas here," said Chuck White, a longtime boater from Perry Hall. "Not anywhere that's close enough to justify the drive." 
 
White said he's seen ethanol do even worse than a phase separation. 
 
"If you let it sit for a long time, it eats away, the alcohol and the ethanol acts like a detergent," he said. "It eats away the internal parts of the motor, especially your fuel lines, fuel tanks."
 
Ethanol is such a strong solvent that it will clean out deposits in the fuel tanks and lines, which can lead to clogged filters and carburetors. 
 
"Basically, see it as cholesterol," said Kyle Brockschmidt, head technician at Intercoastal Marine.
 
Brockschmidt is cleaning and rebuilding at least one carburetor a week affected by this problem.
 
"You have to clean everything, you have to rebuild it," he said. "You have to go through, everything pretty much. You have to flush the line, you have to replace the fuel filters, rebuild the carburetors, install new gaskets."
 
The best way to protect against this kind of damage is simple.
 
"Use it, use it, use it," White said. "Keep that gas flowing through there."
 
When you store your boat in the off-season, Martin recommends that the gas tank be empty.
 
"If there's no gas in the tank, it can't go through a phase separation, and it can't absorb water," he said. "There's no gas there."
 
White considers himself one of the lucky ones. 
 
"I use [my boats] year-round," he said. "I'm lucky enough to get out on them here and there."
 
Boaters ABC2 spoke to also recommended running fuel stabilizer to extend the life of the gasoline. 
 
There are just over two dozen gas stations in Maryland still selling pure gasoline. You can see a list of them here .
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