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Old 05-20-2007, 08:36 PM   #1
scubapro5
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Default Boat Notes - Tips for Improving Fuel Efficiency

Boat Notes - Tips for Improving Fuel Efficiency

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

By Zack Thomas
With fuel prices already at record highs and predictions that a gallon of regular unleaded will top $4 before the summer is over, it's a great time to think about improving your rig's fuel efficiency. It's surprising just how much difference a few simple steps can make.

Lighten Your Load

One means of improving mileage - which should be obvious but is too often overlooked - is reducing your boat's load. Short of cutting down on crew or going without live bait, there are several ways to do this.

For starters, get rid of excess junk - cleaning supplies, unnecessary tackle (the box of 10-oz. torpedo sinkers you bought for a rock cod trip three years ago, for example), your brother-in-law's weight belt, the marine grill and two bottles of propane you haven't used since the weekend after you bought them, and so on.

Each piece of extraneous gear may not weigh much by itself, but the weight adds up. A year ago, I helped my father "audit" the gear aboard the 25-ft. center console he keeps in Baja, and we removed easily 150 lbs. of stuff. Some of it was just junk, but most of it was stuff that simply didn't need to "live" on the boat.

You can also reduce weight, by carrying less fuel. Gasoline weighs around 6.2 lbs. per gallon, and diesel a bit more than 7 lbs. That comes to about 310 lbs. for 50 gals. of gas or 350 lbs. for 50 gals. of diesel. So don't fill up with 400 miles worth of fuel for an afternoon jaunt to the kelp beds.

The caveat here - aside from the obvious fact that you should never, ever try to cut it close on fuel - is that a full fuel tank is a happy fuel tank. On the other hand, if you run your boat fairly often and check/change your fuel-water separator(s) regularly, it shouldn't be a problem. Just don't let a boat sit idle for months with a partially full tank.


Work on Balance

It's not just the total weight of crewmembers, gear and fuel that affects economy, but also how it's distributed. If you have to trim your prop way up or way down and/or use a lot of trim tab to achieve a flat cruise, you're burning more fuel than you need to.

The easiest way to adjust weight distribution is to move crewmembers around, but that's not always an option. In lieu of that, move heavy, easily portable gear like coolers, gas cans, tackle boxes/bags, emergency water jugs, extra two-stroke oil, tool chests and kill bags.

Uneven port-starboard weight distribution is easy to identify and fix on the water. Fore-aft weight distribution is better taken care of at the dock. Have your crew stand or sit where they intend to ride on the run out, and then take a look at your boat's fore-aft attitude. If the boot stripe angles up away from the surface, odds are your boat is stern-heavy, and vice versa. Then move gear around to level the boat as much as possible.

One quick way to really mess up the weight distribution at least of a smaller boat is to start strapping stuff such as bait tanks, kill bags or ice chests to the swim step. If you have no choice but to carry an ice chest or kill bag on your swim step, wait as late as possible to fill it. If you have a bait tank or bag on the swim step, empty it as soon as you're done for the day and close the thru-hull. Many bait tank water pickups keep the tank full at speed even if the pump isn't running.


Pay Attention to Nuances

If you have a fuel-flow gauge, another easy way to reduce the amount you spend on fuel is simply to devote a half hour to learning the nuances of your rig. Every hull-engine combination performs differently, and every one has an optimal cruising speed and attitude. The best place to figure it out is on a sizable piece of relatively flat water without a lot of other boat traffic.

Start out making long, straight runs, preferably at right angles to the wind direction, at about the speed you normally cruise. Fiddle with trim until you maximize your mileage, and then speed up or slow down by a couple of miles per hour. If you get better mileage at that speed, adjust again in the same direction. If not, adjust back in the other direction. Keep at it until you find the combination of throttle and trim that produces the best fuel efficiency.

Remember that this is by no means an exact science. The most efficient speed and trim combination for any given rig varies with factors like load, weight distribution and wind and water conditions. On the other hand, fuel efficiency does "top out" at some speed, on either side of which it decreases. If you can cruise at or near that point the majority of the time, you'll burn less fuel.

The amount of fuel you save by lightening your load by fiddling with your cruising speed and attitude or lightening your load by 100 lbs. may not seem like much, but it adds up in the long run. If you can improve your cruising mileage by 10 percent - say from 3.0 to 3.3 mpg - you'll save about 2.5 gallons of fuel - or about $8.25 at today's prices - on an 80-mile round-trip run to the banks. If you take 15 trips this year, that's $124, even if fuel prices don't continue to rise.
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