Fuel discharge experience

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BDofMSP

Guru
Joined
Sep 5, 2013
Messages
926
Location
USA
Vessel Name
Gopher Broke
Vessel Make
Silverton 410 Sport Bridge
Hello members,

I thought I'd share my experience from this past weekend, in case it helps others understand or be better prepared for these situations.

Sunday we took a group of guests for a leisurely 3 hour cruise. We had good conditions and a great time. Upon backing into our slip, I bumped the engines forward to stop momentum, which sloshed the bilge contents forward enough to trigger the bilge pump for a brief moment. Our dock neighbor noticed and informed me that I was discharging something nasty into the water. I was surprised to say the least, because I had taken the boat for a hard shakedown cruise the day prior and had zero issues and there was nothing in the bilge.

As we tied up, there was clearly a quite large sheen that was spreading across the fairway, accelerated by the wind. I asked my neighbor how much had been discharged and he said "just a burp, maybe a quart". But I know that even a small discharge makes a huge sheen so that made sense to me. I went to the engine room and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of diesel. Descending, I was shocked to see several gallons contained in the bilge under the starboard engine, and a smaller amount of fuel and water in the middle bilge (which contains the pump. No fuel was visibly leaking from anywhere, but I shut off the supply valves at the Racors anyway.

I immediately hailed the Coast Guard, and they asked me to call their command center, which I did. I made a report there and they asked me to also report to the National Response Center, which I also did, and called the Coast Guard back (which they had requested me to do). The NRC report was unusual because they wanted to know both how much fuel was released into the boat, as well as how much was released into the water. I estimated both and provided that to them.

In the meantime, the fuel had dispersed across the marina and had raised concerns from boaters on another dock. They decided to call the sheriff, who in turn notified the fire department. They sent cars and trucks, which I knew had to be related to my incident as soon as I saw them. I found the boaters convincing these responders that the leak had to be from the line to the fuel dock (which my slip is on), so I clarified that no, the leak was from my boat and that I had already reported it. Simultaneously I got a call from the Wisconsin DNR (the Coast Guard had notified them) who had a lot of questions. Fortunately the Fire Chief talked with the DNR officer and got everyone aligned on the scope and nature of the incident, and everyone agreed that no further mitigation was needed. I learned from that conversation that booms and mats don't really do much for sheen, just bulk floating product, and that allowing it to disperse would help it evaporate more quickly. The Chief was really more concerned about my comfort staying on a boat with those fumes than any real danger (although he did say that I should be sure there were no hot wires hanging in the fuel itself). He also mentioned that if it was gasoline I'd have been towed out to the middle of the bay immediately, so that happily reinforced my choice of diesel engines.

A bit later I got another call from the Coast Guard because they were very concerned about a discrepancy between what I had told them vs what the NRC had published in their report. Even though I was clear that the gallons were contained in the bilge, and the quart was discharged to the water, they had written that we had discharged 10 gallons of diesel into Lake Superior. I explained the discrepancy and he understood the mistake, and after hearing the results of overview from police, fire, and DNR also determined that no further action as needed (other that their required investigation forms). Interestingly, when I called the NRC to inform them of the miscommunication, they insisted that their description was correct and proper for their protocol, and that I should "calm down". Whatever that means.

Fortunately I keep a large quantity of absorbent pads on board, so I spent the evening using a transfer pump to suck the bilge contents into buckets lined with garbage bags and stuffed with pig mats. These bags and mats were discarded into the designated location for used mats in the marina oil disposal center. This morning the marina manager came down and surveyed the water surface and found essentially no remaining residue. They also sent a mechanic down and together we discovered the source of the leak.

For some reason, the on engine fuel filter canister had developed a crack in the side while we were underway. Being under pressure, this of course sprayed a LOT of fuel quickly all over the engine room. Of course this didn't affect engine performance, so there was no way that I could have known that this leak had occurred (except possibly if I had engine room cameras, but I have neither the dash space for dedicated monitors, nor the willingness to take my attention off the water to watch a camera constantly). I suspect that I must have damaged the filter when I installed it, as I can't imagine it splitting on its own.

My lessons learned include:
  • Report immediately. Yes it bought me a ton of hassle and paperwork, which continues today. But when someone else reported separately, it was extremely helpful that I'd already reported myself and had things underway. I bought a lot of credibility with the DNR especially since they weren't onsite.
  • Have a quantity of absorbent pads available. More than just enough to change your oil. Unexpected things happen.
  • Be more careful about inspecting my work. When I looked at the filter canister there was a small dent made by the filter wrench. I know I didn't really even need to use the wrench but I did, and I should have noticed that damage.
  • Having a 12 volt transfer pump was a huge benefit in remediating this situation.
  • Having diesel instead of gasoline prevented an enormously problematic situation, and potentially prevented a life ending situation.
We'll see what other calls and reports need to happen today, but I'm fairly confident that this experience is behind me.

BD
 
Seconded - very helpful!
 
Hopefully by you self reporting it you will not get any fines. Your boat insurance will cover the cleanup, if necessary, but it will not cover any fines that are given. Good luck.
 
Glad you had an observant neighbor. The potential spill could have been a pia. For a FYI, a cup of diesel will put a a sheen on a one acre pond, so a little goes a long way. That being said, the company I worked for did USCG spill response. This is an administrative exercise for the regulators and yourself (unfortunately). There is nothing to recover and you reported it. I’ve never been aware of any regulatory action for a discharge of this size when it’s reported by the responsible party.
 
Yes, the key is that you reported it. If you didn’t report it then you would likely get fined.
 
All -
I just received the following letter from the USCG regarding the matter. I believe this is now closed, although it does go down on "my permanent record"...

Coast Guard personnel from my office investigated a report of oil discharge on May 19, 2024 (Case Number 1392147), and discovered the following violation: Violation Cite: 33 USC 1321(b)(3)

To wit: Your vessel, GOPHER BROKE (Official Number 1302737), discharged approximately one quart of an oily water mixture containing diesel from your bilge pump resulting in a sheen on the surface of Lake Superior, a navigable water of the United States, for which you have been identified as the responsible party.

It was determined that justice is best served by issuing you a warning rather than pursuing a monetary penalty for your actions as set forth above. You are advised that this warning will become a matter of Coast Guard record and will be considered for any future enforcement actions against you. You may accept or decline this warning by indicating your choice below. Sign and date below and return a copy to the address above within 30 days of receipt. Failure to return a signed copy will result in the Coast Guard considering this warning accepted. Should you choose to decline this warning, civil penalty proceedings will be initiated against you in accordance with Title 33 CFR 1.07.

Should you have any questions regarding this letter of warning, please contact the Marine Safety Unit Duluth Pollution Response department at (218) 725-3800 or DuluthFAC@uscg.mil.


I can live with that. An unfortunate event, but a good learning experience.

BD
 
I didn’t see if you reported the incident to your insurance company. I would suggest you do report the spill to your insurance as soon as possible. Invoices and fines may be issued from the various agencies involved; from local fire to USCG. Sometimes the invoices and fines take months.
 
I did report to my insurance company. It was the 2nd call I made. They are holding a claim open.
 
I would accept the warning ASAP so that it can't be withdrawn. It's sort of a contract like a plea deal. They offer; you accept; probably can't be rescinded.

Ted
 
Yes I returned that right away. I still need to forward to insurance though.
 
This creates an interesting dilemma with respect to automatic bilge pumps.

On one hand it says you should NOT have an automatic bilge pump because it might pump oil overboard that could otherwise be safely contained. But that also means your boat can sink if it develops a leak while unattended.

And if you do have an automatic bilge pump, you boat is protected from sinking, but also subject to inadvertent oil discharge.

So how do you set you pump? Automatic or manual?
 
This creates an interesting dilemma with respect to automatic bilge pumps.

On one hand it says you should NOT have an automatic bilge pump because it might pump oil overboard that could otherwise be safely contained. But that also means your boat can sink if it develops a leak while unattended.

And if you do have an automatic bilge pump, you boat is protected from sinking, but also subject to inadvertent oil discharge.

So how do you set you pump? Automatic or manual?
For me the question was pretty simple. Do you want a few gallons of diesel going over the side or the boat sinking with probably 200 to 600 gallons onboard?

One of the features on Slow Hand that I really liked was the pan between the stringers that had a damn at both ends. I gel coated it white and lined it with oil absorbent diapers. It was very easy to spot the slightest leak, and the pan would probably hold 5 to 10 gallons of liquid. It was also very easy to find any parts you dropped as opposed to having to hunting at the bottom of the bilge. 😖

Ted
 
Luckily the spray of diesel was not directed at something really hot like an exhaust. As I think back to the several diesels I have become more closely associated with, I now realize that the engine-mounted filter and other fuel related items were mounted away from really hot sources.
 
For me the question was pretty simple. Do you want a few gallons of diesel going over the side or the boat sinking with probably 200 to 600 gallons onboard?

One of the features on Slow Hand that I really liked was the pan between the stringers that had a damn at both ends. I gel coated it white and lined it with oil absorbent diapers. It was very easy to spot the slightest leak, and the pan would probably hold 5 to 10 gallons of liquid. It was also very easy to find any parts you dropped as opposed to having to hunting at the bottom of the bilge. 😖

Ted
I agree with that logic. My boat has a similar isolated area under each engine and a drip pan under the gen. I keep oil pads in all 3 spots. Makes it easy to avoid ever getting oil in the bilge unless something has gone terribly wrong.
 
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I line the area under the engines with iol absorbing diapers. Also have them in the bilge forward and aft of the pumps.
 
You could use something like this. Bilge pump switch with oil/fuel detection. It could be your lower pump to handle normal bilge pumping. Stopping pumping when it detects oil or fuel. A higher capacity pump mounted a bit higher without the oil/fuel detection to handle flooding.
your link did not go HERE
something must have happened as the home site no longer displays this product. Amazon is still selling old stock?
 
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To be clear, each engine has a compartment under it that is isolated from the center bilge. Each of them were lined with mats to detect the slightest drip from either engine. That's great for drips- this was gallons. So yes "Makes it easy to avoid ever getting oil in the bilge unless something has gone terribly wrong."
In this case something has gone terribly wrong.
I'm just glad that I had 50+ pads on board. Clean up and control was much easier.
 
Dunno what happened with the link in post #16. Here's one that should work OK. BG-ONE
Reading the company's brochure
1717822054404.png


I don't have any experience with their products, just recalled such a device exists and searched for it. Seems promising but at the risk of additional failure points. I'd want another pump as well, one set higher so as to deal with flooding.
 
I had this in previous boat and tested in a bucket of water with a small amount of oil and diesel. They work as advertised. What I really liked was seeing how a sheen in bilge was not pumped, just water.

Insurance companies should buy one for every customer.
 
Back to the OPs experience. It can happen to any of us. Try to ensure it doesn't happen. Keep clean up gear aboard. Report it immediately. Handle it quickly and properly if it does.

I've been involved in 4. They were in the Seattle area on the urban lakes. USCG and Wash State Dept of Ecology are very strict here. What matters in what happens to the captain is how the spill is managed. If the boat is well maintained and properly operated under normal circumstances. The spill immediately reported. Honest efforts to contain and clean up the spill are made. Then not much happens beyond the warning letter in the USCG file and a stern, very uncomfortable session with the DOE.

Unless it is a big spill. One of the events was hundreds of gallons. The engineer had made a mistake setting up the valves for fuel transfer. The captain was late noticing the overboard flow. Both were good mariners, normally operating and maintaining the boat to high standards. Reporting was immediate. Our response was immediate including bringing in the pros to start clean up. No fines from USCG or state DOE. But the clean up bill from the pros was very large. Boom boats, booms, skimmers, a massive number of pads, then disposal of it all. Huge expense. Me? I was support staff. I jumped in on the containment and clean up. I got a thank you from the capt and engineer and had to throw my clothes away at the end of the day.

3 of the spills were not on my watch. I was crew not involved in the spill or support staff.

The 4th was on my watch. Very minor incident. USCG came, DOE came. Both saw the nature of the incident, noted my prompt call and immediate clean up actions. All I got was a letter in my file.
 
White Pig branded oil mats are the best for oil and fuel in water. Grey ones are more for coolant and all other fluids even bodily if there’s a big enough mess…
 
Ha! My wife just reminded me of a great irony. Every spring we check all of our bilge pumps, and for the first time EVER we had a failure. Replaced the switch and we were back in action!

The same pump that delivered that shot of diesel overboard. That's what you get for doing maintenance! ;-)
 
Ha! My wife just reminded me of a great irony. Every spring we check all of our bilge pumps, and for the first time EVER we had a failure. Replaced the switch and we were back in action!

The same pump that delivered that shot of diesel overboard. That's what you get for doing maintenance! ;-)
But the alternative could be sinking your boat…
 
Yeah, I know, not ecologically/politically correct - but Dawn beats the heck out of a fine.
 
I'm thinking the best management practice would be have the pumps in manual mode with only alarms when someone is on the boat, and in automatic mode when the boat is unoccupied. It seems the most likely time that a fuel or oil leak will occur is when operating the boat, and with only an alarm, you can investigate before operating the pump. And when the boat is unoccupied, there will be no other way to hold of a leak other than automatic pumps, so important ot have on then, even if some fuel or oil discharge may occur as well.

The hard part, at least for me, would be reliably remembering to change modes.
 
Yeah, I know, not ecologically/politically correct - but Dawn beats the heck out of a fine.
Dawn just disperses the oil/fuel and lets it sink and cause much more damage to the environment. Just report it and as the OP said he didn’t get a fine because he followed the rules l. Using Dawn will more likely get you a fine because it appears that you are trying to hide it.
 
Yeah, I know, not ecologically/politically correct - but Dawn beats the heck out of a fine.
If caught the fine can be a lot more from what I have heard. And I know people will rat you out because of the destructive nature of using Dawn that way. I did hear through the years there were at least commercial products you could legally use to disperse the sheen, but wouldn't surprise me you would need an EPA number to use them.

For most of us, diesel discharge will almost always be accidental without a citation or fine. At least on the Atlantic seaboard.

Even if the boat sinks with hundreds of gallons of diesel, very few salvage jobs I have been on required much of a cleanup. The one or two that did, it was quarts to gallons of motor oil that the officials were loosing their minds over. Make sure your dip sticks are tight and your oil fills have good gaskets. If you have an open to the air breather, it may behoove you to plug up any opening from the crankcase to the atmosphere when not aboard.
 
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