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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I thought I'd tell this story for any/all who are thinking of buying a used boat, and maybe as a suggestion for those who already own one.

In 1992 I purchased a 1977 32' Uniflite. It had Twin Crusader 270 V-drives, 80 gal of water and 250 gal of fuel.

The fuel tanks were 2 factory installed 100 gallon tanks, and one 50 gallon auxillary tank mounted between the two engines. It was a custom built after market tank the original owner had made and installed.

I had a marine survey performed and it all came out fine - with the usual comments about blisters and older age equipment. I purchased the boat.

After 2 months of ownership, I invited a good friend to go to Catalina for the weekend. He loves good food and demanded HE bring the food. "Of Course" I relied. He also smokes.

We were set to depart Long Beach by 3PM. I had arrived at the boat at 5:30 AM to gas up. I topped off both 100 gal tanks, and then filled the 50 gal AUX tank. I motored back to the slip, tied up, and went to work.

I left the office in time to meet by buddy at the boat. I helped him carry bags of who knows what . . he had a big smile on his face when I asked "what'd ya bring?" ....

I stepped aboard, he set his bags on the dock and returned to his car to get more gear. I opened the salon door and stepped inside . . . snif snif . . . I smelled gasoline. I stood in the galley smelling the air with a panic, then all of a sudden the smell seemed to go away - I thought.

I lifted the hatch cover in the main salon and got another wiff of gas, I felt light headed. I saw liquid in the bilge and I leaned down into the hatch and touched the liquid - it was that rough feeling of gasoline. You know, gas is thinner than water so you feel wet, but you feel your fingers more.

This was REALLY weird because I actually doubted it was gas. I put my fingers to my nose and smelled gasoline. This is when the reality hit me . . . I jumped up and exited the boat only to see my buddy stepping onto the boat . . . with a lit cigarette in his mouth. I yelled GET THAT CIG OUT AND GET OFF THE BOAT!!! THERE's A GAS LEAK.

My buddy turned white as a ghost, his cig went flying aft to the middle of the channel and he dropped the bags and ran. I was right behind him.

The boat just sat there. I was expecting it to explode when I realized what was going on. I called the harbor patrol on my cell. They told me GAT AWAY FROM THE DOCK! Within seconds I heard the sirens of the harbor patrol boat . . . about 3 minutes later they were screaming down the narrow channel in full fire gear. They immediately started foaming the boat. They boarded the boat and foamed out the interior. Then they towed the boat to the isolation dock - which just happens to be right by the fuel dock!

They pumped 50 gallons of fuel out of my bilge. They found a hole the size of a quarter in the bottom of the aux tank. They removed the tank and washed out the boat with several gallons of simple green, then went thru the boat the next day with a "Sniffer" that detects gas fumes. It was given a clean bill of health.

I went to the isolation dock 3 days after the incident to get the boat. Rather than going straight to the dock I decided to take a run out the jetty. I got a half mile out then turned around and came back in. I got to the dock, went below and smelled gas AGAIN!

WTF!!???

Harbor patrol arrives again . . same routine . . Isloation dock . . 2 days later the report comes back that apparently 2-3 gallons of fuel found a high spot hiding place and never got pumped out. By my running out the jetty and getting the nose UP gave the gas the desired angle to run aft.

Where am I going with this Story??

1. Part of your pre-purchase inspection should be visual inspection of all surfaces - or as many surfaces as possible of the fuel tanks. Look for corrosion.

2. Have a pressure test done on all tanks to be sure there are no leaks. Had I had this simple test performed, we would have found the quarter sized hole in the AUX tank and never had to go thru this terrifying experience. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Even tho the tank was grounded, electrolysis ate the hole in it.


Add pressure tests to you list of inspections!!


JB
 

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JB,

Thanks for sharing the story. I'm glad it didn't explode too.

This is certainly good information and another reason I like diesel boats. Another benefit of red dye diesel is it is easy to spot fuel leaks. I found this out many years ago when I bought a boat.

An alternative to pressure testing the fuel tanks is to ask the seller to fill the tanks (all tanks) before sea trial. Leaks as described here will be readily apparent. Tell the seller you will pay for the fuel if he balks at filling the tanks. I think JB's buyer knew there was a leak in that center tank, which is why it sat empty.

Bill
 

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Wow JB...what a scary and depressing story. I'm sorry to hear that you went through this experience. What ended up happening with the boat. Did you keep it? How does the story end?

Man...you caught your buddy just in time. You guys would have gone up like a torch.

When comparing gas vs diesel, we always talk about milage, longevity etc. but I really think safety is the biggest benefit. Newer gas outboards are a different story but older gas inboards...scary.
 

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JB,

You're on a roll lately. Another great post. Glad things worked out.

Keep the posts coming!
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Rob,

We kept the boat and used it for about 4 years until my son was born. Babys LOVE boats, until they learn to walk. Then they HATE boats and ruin boating for a good 2 years because they cannot handle the wonderfull swell rockin - it kicks them on their little butts and frustrates the CRAP outta them.

Momma and I looked at each other and decided keeping the boat for 2 years and not using it as we loved did not make good financial sense. So in January 1996 I sold the boat and invested the money in our first house. A 6 year old 2400 sq ft, 5 br 3 ba house that was a fannymae REPO that we stole for $155K in Orange Crest (Riverside). We sold it in Sept 2004 for $450K and moved to Havasu - and LOVE it.

HOWEVER - some things I learned in the ordeal I still practice today on our 23' deck boat. The FIRST THING I DO when I board my boat - is open the engine hatch, stick my head in there and SNIFFFF!! Then I LOOK around for anything that looks outta place, or for liquid in the bilge in case my sniffer is plugged. I will say that this is one HUGE suggestion to give ANY/ALL boat owners. USE YOUR NOSE AND YOUR EYES BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ON THE BOAT.

The good thing is, Momma STILL wants her ocean boat! :7 And if we play our cards right in our business investments, we'll have a 36'~42' . . . . DIESEL . . something er other in the next 5 years.

Yes, it was a scary as hell situation. But a great lesson learned.


JB
 

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Man, I thought you talking about my father-in-law's boat, but his was a 28' salty dog.
His had the same set up, 3 tanks, center one installed by the previous owner. It was never a problem when he owned the boat but the next owner found leaks in all 3 tanks. They had steel tanks on those boats.
My first and current boats have fiberglass tanks. That seems to be the best.
Scarry sheeet.
 

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Sad story indeed, yet with a very happy ending! Thanks for telling it! Seems too many boat owners never step foot in their bilges, and some probably shouldn't since they will probably make things worse. Hopefully your story will convince some to do a safety check everytime they step onboard! Much like a pilots checklist before they take off.
 

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Wow!! I've spent more time in my bilge than anything else on my boat!! since i've been doing small repairs i just sit in there and follow the wires and thru hulls trying to get as familiar with all the systems as i can.

Whenever you buy anything used there is a risk. You can try and cover everything, but, when you start to disassemble something or repair things it can be a pandora's box.

I had a guy come and clean my tanks before i even ran my boat once. I asked him if he had to do alot of older boats. His response suprised me. It seems alot of the boats he had done work on recently were the new ones. A Hatteras to have a chunk of fiberglass in the tank that would occasionally clog the pickup tube. Owner could not figure out why that engine would always stall.

Another story he shared was a Nordhavn that had a few pieces of a tape measure and various screws and washers in the tank. So, just because you spend 800K + on your boat does not assure you of trouble free.

lack of quality control IMHO.
 

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Having owned diesel before and now owning 4-stroke ob powered boat I always sniff on board before turning on the main batt switch. This summer, I smelled a faint odor of gas on board, looked around couldn't find anything. Boston Whalers are notorious for having hard to reach spots and I couldn't trace the smell. It went away... It came back a little... That is it. I am pulling both tanks as we speak, they both look OK, but gas fumes are gas fumes- it can only be bad news, I want zero fumes. Glad you are OK, it could've been bad. BTW- no one is ever allowed to smoke on board unless you smoke on the tower, boat rules.
 
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