How to Proceed if You’ve Spilled Fuel in the Water

Unfortunately, there is always the chance that something could happen during your boat journey that causes you to spill or leak fuel. This is a twofold problem. First, it wastes fuel and could potentially lead to you being stranded out in the ocean, and second, it is very harmful to the environment, and can, in turn, lead to some costly consequences for you.

Obviously it is best to prevent a fuel spill in the first place, but if a spill does occur, you will need to know what to do. 

Reporting the Spill

First, report the spill by contacting your local Coast Guard’s spill hotline. This agency will want to know what was spilled, the estimated quantity and size of the sheen, and whether the spill is continuing. That information is passed to coordinating coastal protection offices and state environmental agencies.

A Coast Guard pollution responder will decipher whether sending an investigator to the scene is necessary. A continuing spill, an unknown source, or an incident likely to require cleanup are triggers. If the Coast Guard doesn’t visit, the “responsible party” will submit a written or telephone statement.

There will likely be some enforcement action even if no clean up is necessary. Depending on how much fuel, the circumstances of the spill and a boater’s spill history, most boaters get off with a warning. A handful of cases garner a citation. Failure to report a spill and getting caught is a class-one civil penalty.  

Cleaning Up

If you find yourself on the hook for a major spill, clean up might be the biggest cost. This usually takes a team to collect it with absorbent pads or a vacuum truck that skims oil from the water’s surface. The team will also clean the oil-stained water lines of affected boats, usually right in the marina. A licensed site professional may be required. 

You’re responsible for any damage caused by the fuel in your tanks. You can protect yourself by obtaining adequate boat insurance up to that amount specifically for spill liability in addition to the general liability limit. Nobody wants a fuel or oil spill in the waters in which they boat. But if it happens, act quickly and responsibly to protect the environment and your wallet.

Step by Step Actions

If you have spilled fuel, follow these steps:

  1. Identify and stop the source of the leak.
  2. Notify the marina for assistance.
  3. Call the Coast Guard Response Center (800-424-8802). You must report the spill. There may be fines but they are even greater for failure to report or efforts to hide a spill.
  4. Contact your boat insurance provider. 
  5. Contain spill with oil absorbent pads or booms then properly dispose of used or saturated absorbents.

What to report to Coast Guard:

  • Location of the incident,
  • Cause or source of the spill,
  • The type of fuel spilled,
  • The amount of fuel spilled,
  • Level of danger or threat,
  • Weather conditions at the location.

About Mariners Insurance

Mariners General Insurance Group was founded in 1959 to protect boat owners and marine business clients. We are marine insurance experts and insure boats worldwide – in every ocean on the planet. Marine insurance is critical if you own a boat or nautical business. Trust the professionals with all of your Boat Insurance needs – trust Mariners Insurance. Call us at (800) 992-4443 any time you have questions or concerns about insurance for your vessel or marine business.