What Happens When Your Boat Runs Out of Fuel?

boat came for help

Most boats require fuel just like land-based vehicles. Depending on the type of engine you’re running, you might need standard petrol/gas or diesel. If you run out of this fuel in the middle of a journey, your engine won’t be able to work properly. That means you could be stranded in the open water – with no relief in sight.

What should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

What to Do When Your Boat Runs Out of Fuel

These are the most important steps to take once your boat is out of fuel:

  • Remain calm. It’s difficult to stay calm in an emergency situation; your instinct may tell you to panic. However, working to stay calm is one of the best things you can do in this scenario. Steadying your heart rate and refusing to allow panic to take over will allow you to think more thoroughly and rationally. You’ll be much more likely to make logical, calculated decisions – and you’ll be able to act fast when appropriate to do so. Remaining calm also sets the right tone for the other people onboard your ship; if the captain starts panicking, other people will panic as well. If the captain is calm, they’ll likely remain much calmer.
  • Stay in one place. Without fuel in your vessel, you won’t have much control over your vessel. However, you should still work to stay in one place. Drop your anchor if the water is shallow enough and don’t let anyone venture out in a dinghy or try to swim to safety. If authorities are coming to bring fuel to your vessel, or if they’re searching for you, they need to know where to find you; you’ll make things much more difficult if you move around too much.
  • Radio for help. Every boat should be equipped with a fully charged VHF radio and extra batteries. Ideally, you’ll also have a satellite phone. Consult with your local authorities to determine the best way to send a distress signal, or the best people to contact. Ideally, you’ll be able to make contact quickly – and you’ll get confirmation that someone is on their way to help.
  • Take inventory. If you aren’t able to get your distress signal through, or if it’s going to be a while before help arrives, take a moment to examine your boat’s inventory. What kinds of supplies do you have? Do you have a flare or another emergency signalling device you can use in an emergency? Do you have food and water onboard, and if so, how much? Do you have extra sunscreen and other miscellaneous supplies to keep you comfortable for a while?
  • Watch your surroundings. Keep an eye on your surroundings, especially if you weren’t able to make a clear distress signal. Authorities searching for you may know your general location, but they may not know precisely where you’re located; watching for them and signalling to them may be vital to get assistance. Similarly, if you weren’t able to make contact with authorities, you’ll need to flag down another vessel to get the assistance you need; flares and marine horns are two of your best tools to accomplish this, but they only work if there’s another vessel in your vicinity.
  • Wear a lifejacket. You should be wearing a lifejacket at all times while on a boat. However, some situations demand a lifejacket more than others. This is one of them. With little control over your vessel and an uncertain near-term future, it pays to make safety a top priority.
  • Get comfortable. Depending on where you’re located, it could be a while before assistance arrives – or you may have to work hard to get the attention of passing vessels. Try to get comfortable; don’t overexert yourself, apply an extra layer of sunscreen, drink some water, and relax.

Preventing Fuel Issues in the Future

Fortunately, there are a handful of precautions that can help you make sure this type of incident never occurs again:

  • Invest in your communication equipment. Your top priority should be your communication equipment, since it’s the one thing that can help you if something else goes wrong. Always make sure your radio is fully charged and working properly before heading out to sea – and invest in backup communication methods.
  • Always check your fuel levels before heading out. How much fuel do you have? This is a question you should be asking yourself before heading out on the water, every time. It seems obvious, but it’s a step that many people skip.
  • Always fill up with more fuel than you think you need. A quarter of a tank of fuel might be enough to get you to your destination and back. But are you sure of that? What happens if something goes wrong or if you take an unexpected detour? Always fill up with more fuel than you think you need.
  • Document a float plan. Put together a float plan, detailing where you’re going to go and how long you’re going to be gone. It could be vital for helping people find your location (if you’re unable to communicate it in real time).
  • Regularly inspect and maintain your vessel. Fuel leaks could cause you to run out of fuel even if you top off the tank before leaving. That’s why it’s important to regularly inspect and maintain your vessel to the best of your ability.
  • Keep extra fuel on board. Why risk a potential incident? Always keep an extra container of fuel on board just in case you run out.
  • Watch your fuel levels closely. When traveling, keep a close eye on your fuel levels at all times; if you start running low, you can take proactive action before disaster strikes.

Running out of fuel for your boat isn’t fun, but the rest of your aquatic activities sure are. If you’re looking to upgrade your current boat, or if you’re hoping to become a boat owner for the first time, make sure to check out TheYachtMarket’s wide selection of boats for sale online!

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