Lake Norman mechanics say ethanol has changed rules of winterizing boats
Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013

Lake Norman mechanics say ethanol has changed rules of winterizing boats

Jamie Egan, of Triangle Marine in Denver, says major work should wait for the spring and owners should not put their boats away with a full tank of fuel.

Jamie Egan, owner and operator of Triangle Marine in Denver, has witnessed two dramatic changes in boat winterizing during his lifetime.

The first was about 25 years ago, when he moved to Lake Norman from West Islip, N.Y., where boats run in salt water, and temperatures consistently drop below freezing during the winter.

The second was several years ago, when ethanol was added to most of the fuel boaters use.

Egan said it’s the more recent change, the addition of ethanol, that has changed winterization techniques dramatically.

“Ethanol attracts and absorbs moisture and water from the atmosphere, so the last thing you want to do is put your boat away with a full tank of fuel.”

Joe Spurlin, chief mechanic at Lake Norman Marina in Sherrills Ford, agrees. “Ethanol is a real concern. I always suggest that our customers buy non-ethanol gas for their boats if they can.”

Egan and Spurlin aren’t the only ones concerned about the “ethanol effect.” Mechanics across the country are becoming increasingly concerned as gasoline blended with ethanol becomes more common.

Essentially, boat motors can be damaged by the excess moisture ethanol gas attracts and the gel that is created as the fuel separates.

Some marinas on Lake Norman, such as Spurlin’s near the N.C. 150 bridge, sell fuel that contains no ethanol, but it is significantly more expensive than the “regular” fuel sold at local gas stations. For that reason, many boat owners buy gas in 5-gallon cans at gas stations on the highway. Much of that contains ethanol.

There is another option: Some gas stations in the Lake Norman region now offer non-ethanol fuel. On a recent weekend at the Marathon station in Cornelius, non-ethanol gas was selling for $3.79 per gallon, 46 cents per gallon more than the regular-octane gasoline.

Egan and Spurlin agree on some basic steps boaters can take to prepare their boats for the mild winters in this region while also addressing the ethanol issue:

• First and foremost: Add a petroleum-based stabilizing fuel additive and run the engine for about 15 minutes to mix the additive into the system.

• Drain any excess water out of the engine.

• Egan tells his customers who use ethanol gas to avoid filling their tanks for the winter because that fuel may attract moisture.

• Owners with outboard motors should try to run their engines for about 15 minutes once or twice during the winter to keep things moving and prevent excess buildup of sludge or gel.

• Shut off the battery during the winter, when the boat is not being used, to eliminate the possibility of a component draining the battery.

What about tune-ups and other engine work boaters used to do before they tucked in their boats for the winter?

Nowadays, many mechanics agree that it is spring, not fall, when owners should consider having tune-ups and other major engine work done, if it is required.

Dave Vieser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Dave? Email him at

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