A government mandate has been increasing the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply. Boaters need to be aware of the effects E15 (15% ethanol) has on their engines, fuel systems, warranties and even safety. Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) laid out the issues involving E15 and what boaters need to know with a “Look Before You Pump” campaign aimed at the prevention of E15 in marine engines.
In 2005 Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), setting mandatory levels of renewable fuel that must be blended into domestically used gasoline each year. Ethanol, a corn-based fuel, grew to dominate the renewable market. Currently 90 percent of the nation’s gasoline contains 10 percent ethanol. The time of transition to the 10 percent ethanol was rocky for most boaters, however eventually most of the kinks were worked out.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the debut of a fuel that contains 15 percent ethanol. Under the EPA’s own regulations, it can’t be used in boats, motorcycles, lawnmowers, or cars built before 2001, and it will void some newer car warranties. According to the NMMA, there isn’t one marine engine warrantied if using more than a 10-percent blend of ethanol gas.
“Most boats are fueled up at gas stations, and many of those stations have not posted the required fuel use warning labels,” said Brunswick Corporation Director of Product Integrity/Government Affairs Dave Marlow. “If E15 becomes the most common fuel at those pumps, we are concerned about how the consumer will make the right choice and not misfuel their vessels, voiding their engine warranties and potentially causing engine failure.”
“Using gasoline with ethanol levels above 10 percent can harm your engine and fuel system components,” said Mercury Marine Vice President, Global Category Management Marty Bass. “We will continue to fight against E15 in marine engines and know the OPEI and NMMA will do the same. We need to get this message in the hands of all boaters before they fill up because if they don’t know, they could damage their engines. Most of these failures don’t occur at the dock, but rather while you are on the water, which then becomes much more dangerous.”
The “Look Before You Pump” campaign provides boaters with information and statistics that show the damaging effects of a 15 percent ethanol blend on the life and performance of a marine engine. Boaters are encouraged to read their operating manuals before filling up, to ensure that they are using fuel that is safe for the engine. Today, only a small inadequate sticker is used to educate boaters about the risks of E15.
“There is a significant legacy fleet of older engines particularly vulnerable to changes in fuel formation,” said Bass. “The first step is to reform the renewable fuel standard. The RFS has unrealistic mandates and pushes E15 into the marketplace without concern for the harmful effects that is has on engines. Misfueling of engines can void warranties and leave the consumer to foot what could be a very large repair bill.”
Currently there is one U.S. House bill in committee: H.R. 875, sponsored by Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) seeks to require the EPA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the scientific and technical research on the implications of the use of E15 or higher ethanol.