I’ve noticed a trend among members of the local pontoon boat club. Considering the average age and stubborn mindset of my fellow ‘toon enthusiasts, spotting any change – let along something that’s actually ‘trending’ – is notable. But no doubt about it, this season there’s a case of downsizing circulating around the club. And I’ve succumbed to it as well.
We’re not talking shorter boats, slimmer waistlines or smaller cars here, but the downsizing of fuel tanks. Portable one’s anyway, a trend which is apparent by the reduced size of the gas containers perched on the transom of about every pontoon in the fleet. Where you used to see a brace of gleaming-orange, six-gallon metal cans or a pair of cherry-red plastic container capable of holding eight gallons or more of gas, now you see matched pairs of Mini-Me versions of the portable fuel tanks. (Why we didn’t just downsize to one tank from the common two has as much to do with balance – to the eye of the beholder – as with backup; having a second, auxiliary can lends optimism that the voyage will be completed in the event the primary tank goes dry).
Ethanol is as much to blame for the capacity downsizing as is the cost of fuel these days. That and more members are switching to fuel-efficient four-stoke outboards as their ancient, smoke-belching two-strokes succumb to age. I used to top-off my pair of time-dimpled metal Tempress tanks with a dozen gallons of fuel/oil mix on Memorial Day and might make it to Fourth of July before I needed to lug one up the dock for a refill at the local service station on the drive home from the lake. Some years I’d be using last year’s fuel from one tank or another – until I started noticing that I was going through a fuel-line-assembly a season, and that my carbs had to be cleaned and rebuilt on a semi-annual basis due to the damage being done by the corn-born additives and the water separated from the fuel.
“Use it or lose it” became the mantra among club members who have learned that their pontoon boats’ gas has a shelf life, and that it doesn’t pay to stockpile it in oversized tanks and cans. I replaced my steel fuel drums with a pair of Atwood plastic three-gallon tanks this season and love ‘em. They feature ethanol-resistant lines with spill-proof compression connections, and are exactly half as hard to tote back and forth to the docked FloteBote. Several dock-mates who have seen them have followed suit.
The downsizing trend in fuel tanks makes sense. But I also suspect that among the more senior members of the boat club there’s some gratification gained by messing about with something that actually has a shorter shelf life than they do.