Maintaining a Safe Environment at Your Fuel Dock

A fuel dock may be considered an amenity to some boaters, but it is a tangible added value to a marina, yacht club or boatyard. Though fueling services come with many positives, there are also exposures associated with flammable liquids, namely fires and explosions, and even spillage, which can create the potential for contamination and cleanup obligations.

While fuel dispensing seemingly happens all of the time, the operation should never be taken for granted. Here are some safety basics and best practices that come from established standards (National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30A, NFPA 303 and National Water Safety Congress):

  1. Only employees should dispense fuel; these employees must receive the necessary training that includes becoming familiar with the dispensing system, the location, and the controls to operate the emergency shut-off. The shut-off should be clearly labeled.
  2. The employee should maintain close, clear and unobstructed view of the boat, filler neck and emergency shut-off at all times.
  3. There should be at least one properly inspected and maintained 80 B:C type fire extinguisher within 100 feet of the fuel pump.
  4. Nighttime operation should only be permitted in the dock area if well lit.

Some marine facilities allow unattended fuel dispensing and this reality makes the risk management procedures set forth herein even more critical to be observed at all times, especially when the boat owner is handling the operation without assistance from facility staff.

The following steps, highlighting standard safety practices, should be known by all employees involved with fueling, as well as posted on proper signage in a prominent area of the fuel dock:

Before Fueling

  • Stop ball, engines, and auxiliaries
  • Stop all electricity, open flames, and heat sources
  • Check all bilges for fuel vapors
  • Extinguish all smoking materials
  • Close all access fittings and openings that could allow fuel vapors to enter enclosed spaces of the vessel

During Fueling

  • Prohibit smoking at all times
  • Maintain nozzle contact with the fill pipe at all times
    Important: the nozzle must be an automatically closing type without a latch open device (this enables hands-free fueling)
  • Ensure the nozzles are all properly grounded
  • Fuel filling nozzle must be attended at all times
  • Wipe up spills immediately and report to management and all appropriate external (local, state or federal) authorities

After Fueling

  • Inspect bilges for leaks and fuel odors
  • Ventilate until motors are removed (at least 5 minutes if the boat has a bilge blower and at least 10 minutes if using natural ventilation)

If the boat owner intends to fill up portable fuel tanks, they should be removed from the boat and filled on the fuel dock. Make sure the tanks are approved for this purpose.

A fuel dock is a great addition to a marina, yacht club, or boatyard and can be a real convenience for their members and guests, but maintaining a safe environment and consistent procedures is vital to its success. By making sure your employees are trained in all of the methods above, you are taking proactive measures to minimize risk at your fuel dock.

For more tips on fueling, as well as launching, housekeeping, managing docks, and other key aspects of marina safety, download our Achieving a Safe & Well-Maintained Marina tip sheet here. 

Barry Tarnef is a Vice President and Senior Marine Specialist at Chubb. He has designations in Risk Management, Inland and Ocean Marine Insurance and Claims, and is a Certified Marine Surveyor (NAMS).

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.