Why Not 20?
It looks like we're going to be living with at least some ethanol from now on. But that's not the end of the world. The biggest problems for boaters will be during the transition phase-the one we're living through right now. Careful monitoring of your boat's fuel system and filters, particularly when you first start using E10, should catch most issues before they leave you stranded. And it could be worse. At least two states-Colorado and Minnesota-have decided that if a little ethanol is a good thing, more must be better. They have introduced legislation to add 20 percent ethanol to gasoline.
That would be a bad deal for boaters.
All the existing problems would multiply, and new ones would emerge. The leaning effect, which is tolerable with a 10 percent mix, would kill off an open-loop fuel system, requiring some major reengineering to maintain a proper fuel mixture. Additional lubrication problems would present themselves, and the fuel separation would be exceedingly difficult to solve.
So far, there appears to be little chance that these proposals will be approved. A change in the federal regulations would be needed to allow a 20 percent mix to be distributed as regular gasoline, and that doesn't seem to be forthcoming. And what about pure ethanol replacing gasoline altogether? Only the corn lobbyists are pushing for this. The fact is, it's energy content is low. Even the E10 mix gets 2 to 3 percent worse fuel economy than undiluted gasoline. Full-strength E85 (85 percent ethanol) would result in about a 30 percent loss in range. Plus, the water absorption, electrolysis, and other issues would become substantial. So, for now it's 10 percent moonshine. Raise your glasses and make the best of it.
Fuel filter/water separators are the first step on the road to ethanol redemption. You could get by with a single 10-micron filter/separator, but we prefer a two-filter setup with the fuel first passing through a coarse 20-micron filter and then on through a 10-micron filter. Each time you go out, drain off any water in the bowl of each.
Filter elements clog; it's what they do when overwhelmed with the glop ethanol has loosened from your tank. Carry at least one spare for each filter so you won't get left stranded.
Install a fuel vacuum gauge that indicates the amount of suction in the fuel line. If it starts to go up, there's blockage, which may be from ethanol-loosened tank sludge.
To detect water in your fuel tank, put a water-indicating paste, such as Kolor Kut ($7.50/3-oz. tube; www.wecleanfuel.com), on a stick or wire that goes to the bottom of the tank. The color of the paste shows the amount of moisture in the fuel.
Alcohol Anonymous, Our 12-step program to survive life with ethanol.
Don't mix MTBE and ethanol. Drain your tank, or use up as much of the old fuel as you can before making the switch to E10. Once done, don't go back to MTBE gas. Also, drain the tank when storing the boat, and put in additives (see Step 12).
Change all fuel lines to USCG-approved SAEJ1527 hose, which is resistant to alcohol. It should also be rated A-1, which is the most fire-resistant.
Most engines built after 1991 will have alcohol-resistant internals (gaskets, diaphragms, hoses, O-rings). If yours is older, upgrade now.
Does the gas you're buying have ethanol or MTBE? By law, roadside stations must put stickers on pumps designating whether the gas has ethanol and how much. A lot of marinas don't put up stickers, so ask.
Find out when your fuel provider switched to E10 and how it was done. Old fuel and water should have been removed and the tanks cleaned to reduce the possibility of the ethanol loosening up old sludge. If they mixed ethanol with old gas, you could be pumping a potential disaster into your boat.
Does the marina have a fuel filter and water separator in its fuel delivery lines? Find out how often they receive new shipments of gas. The shelf life of E10 is around three months.
Put in only enough gas to get you through the next few weeks. When fueling, use a filtered funnel.
Add a water disperser and sludge dissolver such as Starbrite's Star Tron. Use a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-Bil at all times, and not just when you store the boat.