Spillproof Fueling

Filling up our tanks is the most common way that we unintentionally pollute our waters. In fact, 85% of petroleum that enters North American waters each year is a result of human activities including land-based runoff, airplanes and recreational boats (National Academy of Sciences). Even a tiny fuel spill is toxic to the aquatic environment, harming both animals and plants. The cost to prevent a fuel spill is significantly less than the cost to clean it up; so a little planning goes a long way toward keeping our environment pristine.

For proper fueling procedures, follow these steps:


  • Check fuel lines for any blockages, cracks, worn areas and leaks.
  • Check fuel tanks and vents for any signs of corrosion or damage.
  • Make sure you have absorbent bibs, collar and a spill kit on hand to catch any potential drips or a spill.
  • Know the capacity of your fuel tanks or portable container.
  • Consider installing an overflow attachment for the fuel tank air vent, which acts as a fuel/air separator that releases air and vapor while containing any overflow.


  • Turn off the engine(s), electronics, and extinguish any open flames.
  • Place an absorbent bib or collar around the fuel intake to catch drips or any overflow.
  • Position yourself so you can see the deck fill and hold the nozzle comfortably.
  • Keep the nozzle in contact with the edge of the fill to prevent buildup of static electricity and sparking.
  • Fill tank slowly and listen for a change in tone as the tank gets full. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends filling inboard tanks to 90% capacity to allow for expansion due to heat. Boat fuel tanks are not pressurized like car fuel tanks, so the pump automatic shut-off nozzle rarely works.


  • Wipe up any accidental spills and dispose of rags/absorbent fuel bib/collar as hazardous waste.

Portable Fuel Cans

The transportation and transfer of fuel with portable fuel cans (aka jerrycans) often leads to accidental fuel spills. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an estimated 70,262 gallons of fuel is spilled by the use of jerrycans each year. All new jerrycans sold in the U.S. must meet a set of regulations to prevent spills and decrease fuel vapors being released into the atmosphere. Always fill jerrycans ashore on level ground (not in the back of your truck or on your boat), where spills are less likely to occur and easier to clean up. The new jerrycans will fill more slowly; however, the lack of vapors escaping and minimized fuel spills makes the portable can a better product for the environment.

With care, recreational boaters can take steps to mitigate the risk of accidentally spilling oil or fuel while operating their vessel.

If you have a spill, see the section on Oil and Fuel Spills for correct cleanup procedures.

Green Boating Guide: