By Nicole Price Fasig
A perfect boating day likely includes spending a lot of time out on the water—not refueling back at the marina. Fortunately, some easy strategies can help increase fuel efficiency, which could save time and money . . . and cut down on emissions. Here's what Charles Fort, associate editor of BoatUS Magazine
Before Heading out
At the Dock
- Tune the engine—Take the engine to the shop once a year for a tune-up and service, which helps it run more efficiently.
- Get the right propeller—"The right propeller can improve your fuel efficiency by as much as 10%," says Fort. Propellers are most efficient when they're matched to the kind of boat you have and what you use it for (towing water skiers fishing, for example); ask the pros at a propeller shop for recommendations and experiment with different models. Also, make sure the boat can run at wide-open throttle (WOT). If it's not able to reach WOT—or overruns it—the wrong propeller is being used, and you're not getting the most bang for your fuel buck.
- Check the propeller—A dinged or broken propeller will hurt fuel economy, so regularly inspect it, and replace it if it's damaged. And be sure to keep it clean; barnacles and other growth can attach to the propeller and affect fuel economy as well.
- Clean the hull—Barnacles or stuck-on grass can also create drag on the hull and make the engine work harder, so keep the hull clear of detritus. Boats in warm places like Florida will probably need to be cleaned weekly, while those in colder waters may be able to go a month or two.
- Measure fuel flow—Install a fuel-flow meter, which can show in real time how many gallons per hour the engine is burning. "It can really let you dial in to the most efficient speed for your boat," says Fort. While this device tends to come standard on newer boats, it's easy to get one installed at a shop.
- Upgrade the motor—Newer engines tend to be significantly more efficient. The fuel savings alone might not be enough to justify an upgrade, but if in the market for a new motor, look for a model with better fuel economy.
On the Water
- Ditch extra stuff—Take stock of what's onboard; additional weight means more drag. Clean out anything not needed, from extra anchors to old, unused lines and tools.
- Lighten tanks—Don't run with a full freshwater or fuel tank unless it's needed. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon, and some boats have freshwater tanks that can hold 100 gallons, so emptying half can add up quickly. Gasoline weighs six pounds per gallon, so if a full tank isn't needed to safely return—you obviously don't want to worry about getting stranded—lighten the load and bring less.
- Avoid excess idling—It's a common misconception that newer engines need time to warm up. Modern engines are fuel injected, so when started, they're ready to go in a minute or two.
- Rearrange passengers—the boat engine will run most efficiently when the boat's trimmed, roughly parallel to its at-rest waterline, and it's not leaning too far to one side or the other. If it's safe, ask passengers to move so the weight is evenly distributed—it can make a big difference.
- Reduce wind drag—A canvas or bimini top is great for protection from the sun, but fuel efficiency can be improved while underway by taking it down if possible.
- Get on plane—Common recreational boats run most efficiently when they're on plane, so once out of the no-wake zone, get on plane as soon as possible. "Watch your wake," says Fort. "If you're digging a big hole, you're not being efficient."
- Plan a shorter trip—The ultimate trick to saving fuel, of course, is running the engine less. Travel to closer destinations, or drop anchor somewhere nearer to home to enjoy a fun afternoon on the water.
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