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Ethanol-Powered Boats Make Splash in Kansas

July 18, 2014


It usually happens at least once a week. You open your email to see someone from the marine engine world denouncing the use of ethanol-blended fuels. Nearly every time it is about E15, a fuel that is illegal to use in marine engines. It stems from their lack of confidence in their own customer's ability to read a dispenser label. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it is a way to sell memberships and subscriptions to their publications. But, sometimes, it is even about using E10 (10% ethanol). Every boat manufacturer warrants the use of ethanol-blended fuel with up to 10% ethanol. Any use of a higher-level ethanol blend would actually violate federal law. Seems pretty simple, right? Perhaps for some.
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) took to the water in 2011 to help dispel some of the myths associated with boating and ethanol. RFA partnered with the National Boat Racing Association (NBRA) and required that all racers use 10% ethanol in each race no matter where it was conducted. After each race, those that officially placed for points were tested for ethanol content. If ethanol was not there and at 10%, the racer was disqualified. RFA staff interacted with racers from all parts of the country that were nervous and hesitant to try E10 for the first time, but they did, and they won. Racers reported no changes to their wear and tear on their engines throughout the year, and it is why most of them still use ethanol today. This past weekend in Garnett, KS, the action returned. NBRA was back for the Garnett Ethanol Hydroplane Shootout. Again, NBRA hosted the race and brought racers from across the country to compete in multiple classes at Lake Garnett while using ethanol-blended fuel. These classes included runabouts, hydroplanes, and even a novice class. Each day also included two dash for cash events. All of this entertained the several hundred people watching from the shore. The event was sponsored by RFA, East Kansas Agri-Energy, Kansas Corn Commission, and the City of Garnett. RFA was present to discuss ethanol with the drivers and mechanics, along with the spectators watching the high-speed action. Thanks to the efforts of boating associations like Boat US, many consumers have heard that marine engines and water don't mix. The reality is ethanol-blended fuels up to 10% work just fine in boat engines. In fact, just look to the owner's manuals. Most consumers take short cuts with fuel and fuel storage. If they follow the guidance outlined by the manufacturer, they should have no issues. For example, all fuels start to degrade in 90 days or less. If fuel is going to be stored for longer durations, a fuel stabilizer should be added. It is the same with or without ethanol. Boat US has also attacked E15, and the damage it could cause from its use in marine engines. While no testing has taken place, and there has been no reported misfueling, their fight continues. Ironically, Boat US only calls out E15. What about all of the other non-approved fuels that marine engines cannot use? Diesel, biodiesel, kerosene, suboctane gasoline (85 octane) and E85. Ethanol has many benefits, but for those that love the water, you cannot discount the air and water quality benefits of ethanol. Ethanol lowers the emissions of some of the most polluting engines in the country, and reduces the harmful effects of fuel spilled into water during fueling or normal operation. To learn more, visit and remember, Boat Safe, Fuel Right!