We Can Never Say It Enough. LIFT AND SNIFF! Thanks Mike!

Wing nut aft July 4, 2012That saying may have saved Woody Boater Mike Dovichi’s life this past week. With the explosion this weekend  of another classic boater on Lake Lanier this story could not be more timely. Thanks Mike for sharing.

Matt, Texx I am happy to announce that I am still here to write this story. As I will explain, it could very well have been someone else writing to you about my issue.

Last year I purchased a 1947 Deluxe CC Runabout from an agent. The boat had been refurbished in 2005, used (I think) until 2007 and then shipped to Ohio where it sat in a brokers shed until I purchased it. When I brought it home I had a local marine shop go over it to make sure it was usable. He called me over one day to look at the gas tank he removed from the boat. It had about 3-4 inches of what looked like tapioca pudding, lots of ¼ diameter balls of gunk. The mechanic flushed the tank and installed a gas/water separator and I was able to use the boat without a problem. Except there was always a little smell of gasoline in the bilge, which appears to come from a loose fitting on the gas line. Once that was tightened the problem seemed to go away. I drained the tank last fall for the long Wisconsin winter.

The tank removed

The tank removed

Fast forward to this year. I put 5 gallons of gas in the tank last week and made plans to go boating for the first time this Fathers Day. The weather promised to be fine and I looked forward to finally go boating. But, Friday night I smelled gas fumes in the bilge again. Looking closely I saw a puddle under the gas tank and sure enough the tank was leaking. I quickly turned on a fan, drained the tank, and siphoned a quart of gas from the bilge. I took the tank out yesterday and found two spots that were rotted. The label on the tank read Rayco, manufactured in 2005 of  0.125” aluminum, pressure tested, Coast Guard approved, etc.

Mike found a total of 4 holes. OUCH!

Mike found a total of 4 holes. OUCH!

Without any more information I can only assume that the moisture in the gas ate through the aluminum while it sat in the showroom. I have a blower that I always use, but without expecting a leaking tank I doubt I would have stuck my nose back into the bilge before firing it up. Crises averted this time but it makes me wonder if it is possible to be absolutely safe in a boat not built to current standards. Does anyone ever pressure test the tank in their boat to make sure it is sound?

Do you know of anyone else having this problem. I understand that methanol is creating issues but what conditions would it take to eat through 5052 aluminum 0.125? If you guys might have some info on this please comment.

Mike Dovichi

Photo CummingsPatch.com

1957 Chris Craft on Fire on Lake Lanier this past weekend ALL ARE SAFE CLICK on Photo link for story- Photo CummingPatch.com


Story Update June 22, 2013

Here is a YouTube video of the fire which was captured by fellow Woody Boater Tom Brockmeyer and also a still photo of the boats remains. Scary stuff…

Tom notes: Here is a still picture of the boat remnants from my third pass thru the debris field after the small Chris-Craft exploded on Lake Lanier (N. Georgia) on Father’s Day. The parents are doing well, the 14yr old daughter is still being treated for burns and injuries. How violent must have been that explosion to render the boat deck into tiny shards of wood as pictured!!??? – Tom Brockmeyer


Photo courtesy Tom Brockmeyer – Click on photo to enlarge.

Thanks for sharing this with us Tom, a good reminder of why fuel tank safety and the “Lift & Sniff” routine is so important. – Texx

32 replies
  1. Troy
    Troy says:

    Glad your story ends so well Mike!

    Makes me feel sick just to think of what could have happened.

    Need to start using my nose more.

  2. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Altjhough frustrating, I am so glad that this story had a happy ending. I always lift the hatch AND use the bllower before starting, but this sure hits close to home being another CC Deluxe Runabout.

  3. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    Makes me wonder what is in the “New” fuel we are buying. Any chance you bought fuel at a station in the Milwaukee metro area? They have a mandated “reformulated” fuel.
    I know some of the new fuel eats the tank sealer that was used 10-15 years ago.

  4. Sean
    Sean says:


    This week I am picking up an Aluminum fuel tank I have had made to replace the original 1972 steel tank in my Greavette.

    The steel tank still looks good after 41 years but, I wanted to be sure. (Also the new tank is a better fit with the repower).

    Before I put it in the boat, is there any “sealer” I should be using? I am very sure that winterizing this tank will include a full drain!

  5. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I too had a tank made by Rayco that leaked; after only one season. I had the original tank for over 50 years, and then it started to leak. So, I purchased one from Rayco in Fl since they are said to make tanks for these boats often. I installed the tank and the following year I smelled gas, and after inspection, found a very small weeping at the seam of the tank.

    Since I did not have the money for another tank at the time; the boat went into storage for the season and the season was lost after the first day. I was not happy at all about losing the season, but happy to have spotted it before BOOM

    I did not get a replacement tank from them since they would not stand behind the work, so I got one done locally.

    This year I installed two bilge blowers in the boat (U-22). I plan to redo my engine box so that the top opens instead of having to raise the entire thing and bang into my passengers.

    As far as ethanol fuel is concerned, my experience has been that I go through separator filters every year, and my fuel economy has dropped. Since we burn so much fuel, a 20% drop in economy is noticeable; think of the cruiser guys!

    • Rayco Mfg. Co.
      Rayco Mfg. Co. says:


      I do stand behind my work, and I do not recall receiving any communication from you about your problem. I have no control of damage caused by corrosion, but if the problem was because of a defect of mine I certainly would have taken care of it.

      • Mike Dovichi
        Mike Dovichi says:

        I want to make it clear that the leak was NOT a result of the tank manufacturer. Blame the fact that the gas sat in the tank for 5-7 years absorbing water. I would gladly purchase a new tank from RAYCO.

  6. Gary
    Gary says:

    Both a friend and I just got new tanks and CG probably mandates usage of aluminum. Just how do you totally drain one of these tanks with all the connections on top? Pulling the tank every year is going to be a bitch but but were going to be married, I guess.

  7. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    It’s time we took back our country and demand ethanol be removed from fuel. It doesn’t help with the fuel crisis (takes more energy to produce and deliver than fossil fuel), farmers are growing corn instead of other produce for the subsidy thereby created higher prices for the other produce not grown, and this crap is wreaking havoc on fuel tanks, lines, carbs, engine components, small engines, ad infinitum. Does anyone want this blend other than the farmers who are getting the corn subsidies???? Call your congressman (woman), get action or vote them out.

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    I credit WoodyBoater and the shared experiences of people like you, Mike, with teaching me the necessity of “lift and sniff” a couple years ago. Thank you!

    We had a similar “near miss…” back in 2009 or 2010 — I forget which. During a seasonal commissioning water test of our 25 Sportsman (Marion E), Tommy Mertaugh smelled raw fuel. Upon removing the rear panel, he found a leak in the (full) 60 gallon aluminum tank, at the weld where the sender attaches. The thought of what could have happened had this not been detected scared the daylights out of me.

    “Lift and sniff” is a habit I am teaching my kids by example, and as they learn to operate a classic boat solo.

  9. Alex
    Alex says:

    The little ply Cavalier I bought this spring came with a new polyethylene gas tank. (Yes, I know, it’s not “correct.”) Does anyone know anything about the safety of these tanks vs aluminum? Is there any reason I should not keep it?

    • Kelly Wittenauer
      Kelly Wittenauer says:

      I can’t comment on how their safety compares to aluminum, but would not hesitate to use a poly tank. Our 1999 Malibu inboard came new from the factory with a 37 gallon poly tank. We’ve had no problems with it thus far. I would advise a visual inspection of the tank each spring. Thankfully the design of the tank installation in our boat makes that relatively easy.

  10. Gary
    Gary says:

    After a little research on the web a fuel tank can be made out of most metals and some plastics but each material used has requirements like aluminum 5052 must be 0.125 thick if used.
    One recommendation is to go to pure-gas.org and find gas stations that sell ethanol free gas.

  11. David
    David says:

    ABYC H-24 allows for stainless tanks. It must be cylindrical and less than 20 gallons, but for most of our boats, this is sufficient.

    Another requirement worth mentioning is that copper-based alloys normally used for fuel fittings and lines are considered acceptable for direct coupling with all fuel tank materials except aluminum. We may all want to take a look at our fittings to insure the materials are galvanically compatible. Not sure if this may have caused some of the corrosion, but it is worth checking out. Most tank manufacturers know about these standards, but if the tank is installed by a boatyard or in a garage, these standards may not be followed.

    As an ABYC Project Technical Committee member, there are very good reasons for the development of these standards, and in most cases, accident data to support the specifications.

    Check your fittings!!

  12. Rayco Mfg. Co.
    Rayco Mfg. Co. says:

    Mike Dovichi,

    The problem with Ethanol stems from the fuel sitting in the tank for an extended period of time. Since Ethanol fuel is alcohol based it will attract moisture from the air. When it attracts enough moisture the fuel deteriorates and becomes corrosive. Thus attacking the aluminum.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Mike, another problem with it is we’re essentially burning food and heavily subsidizing the obligation to do so. Grrrrrr.

  13. tuobanur
    tuobanur says:

    I’m surprise that most of you seem to use aluminium tanks rather than stainless steel. Stainless steel is far superior against corrosion, more expensive but worth it.

    • Rayco Mfg. Co.
      Rayco Mfg. Co. says:

      Unfortunately stainless steel is subject to cracking in the welds due to carbide precipitation during the welding process. That is why stainless steel tanks are approved but not recommended by the Coast Guard and the ABYC.

  14. Chuck Crosby
    Chuck Crosby says:

    Upon restart after fueling, my wifes, Aunt Barbara’s Century Resorter blew up. Fortunately, the open engine box deflected the blast away from those in the boat. The boat was a total loss but everyone was fine.

    A post-mortum analysis leads us to believe that the tank was overfilled and the excess fuel spilled into the bilge. They discounted the fuel smell because they had just refueled. This boat did not have a blower.

  15. Bob B.
    Bob B. says:

    I believe gas fumes are heavier than air.

    I was taught to fuel with the CC Deluxe engine hatch closed, then after fueling is done, open the hatch and smell smell smell before starting. I don’t start until it smells nice, and I never start without opening the hatch, which is a big nuisance but I do it.

  16. Tom H
    Tom H says:

    How many boat shows do you attend and see people lifing their hatches and sniffing before starting the engine. Not many from my perspective. We need to stress this more at all of our boating functions.
    Was the tank grounded?

  17. jim g
    jim g says:

    Another thing to note is the fuel pumps and distributors on the engines made prior to around 1970 or 1971 are not coast guard approved. The laws for these components started around this time. The distributors do not have flame arresters in them and the fuel pumps will drip fuel into the bilge when they start to go bad. The best investment you can make for safety is to buy and install a automatic fire extinguisher. The inert gas type. The ones that replace the halon type. It doesn’t make a mess when it goes off and will spread out better. Fighting a fire in a boat with a hand held extinguisher is just going to piss the fire off and make it worse. Especially when the gas is floating on water.

  18. Mark
    Mark says:

    68 Resorter FG. I had phase separation one time about 15 years ago. Looked like dirty mayo. Mechanic cleaned the carb. He removed the 30 gallon metal tank (leaking) about a year later and installed a poly 15 gallon tank. Now it does not cost as much to fill up. Sure glad it did not blow up. I still do not have a blower in the boat but I will have before I use the boat again. M&M

  19. Tom
    Tom says:

    I spent an hour with my pontoon picking up debris from the Lake Lanier wood boat explosion… I would estimate five full bushels of shattered mahogany planking and deck material. I can not comprehend how anyone survived when all the deck, clear to the bow was blown to bits. Most of the debris was 3 to 4 inches wide by 1 to 2 feet long and was not charred at all. Splinters were too numerous to even try to pick from the water. The owner certainly had Devine help last Sunday.

  20. Chad
    Chad says:

    I’m a happy RAYCO tank owner. I inspect it often and always store it with fresh gas. Sta-Bil added when I winterize.

  21. Alex
    Alex says:

    That’s it. I was into classic boats because they’re simple and romantic. But after reading all this… Aluminum. Stainless. Poly. Fittings. Additives. Old pumps and distributors… I’m done! Going canoeing. What could possibly go wrong? Other than the fact that each of my three now-incessantly rivaling kids would be in close quarters, armed with paddles.

  22. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Aluminum is not compatible with ethanol. It is not legal to use with higher than 10% ethanol and for good reasons. While it remains legal and approved for E10, I don’t think it is a good idea in a boat.

    • Mike Dovichi
      Mike Dovichi says:

      Woo Woo, I am back in business with a brand new stainless steel tank. My local metal shop came to my rescue and produced a perfect tank in a week. If anyone is in need of a tank give Don a call at 920-845-2234 and tell him I sent you.

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