The nose knows
Sniff out fuel leaks
Our 406 Carver was turning 8 years old, and it was time for its fall engine and generator service. To lighten the boat for haul out, we emptied the water and holding tanks and burned up most of the fuel.
When the work began in October, I went to the yard and followed the progress over the next few weeks. Afterward, the boat was launched and moved to the work dock for the rest of the service.
Once all work was completed, we drove to the fuel dock. After filling up all three tanks, I ran the blowers before getting underway. All was normal, there were no odors, and the newly serviced engines purred as I took the boat out into the bay. After about 15 minutes, I stopped. With no boaters or wind and warm sun, it was a perfect day to float out for a bit.
I went below to get a soda, and when I entered the salon, my nose detector went off. I smelled a heavy fuel odor and immediately opened the hatches, doors and windows. When I opened the engine room deck plate, I found fuel in the bilge—not enough to activate the bilge pumps but enough to ignite the boat.
I got a bucket and towels and started cleaning up. Sometime later, with a bucket full of fuel and towels, the engine room was clean. I opened additional deck plates in the salon and found the problem: The starboard fuel sender gasket had deteriorated and broken apart. When the boat was up on plane, the fuel transferred to the back of the tank and flowed into the engine room. When the boat was at rest, it didn’t leak.
A heavy fuel odor remained in the boat, so I ran the blowers and a couple of fans in the engine room to evaporate any remaining fuel. After another hour, the odors had dissipated, and it was time to return to the marina. I put the deck plates back in place to close up the engine room just in case.
At idle speed, I made the slow trip back to the marina service dock to write up the repair order. I had all three tank gaskets replaced as well as the port and starboard fill hoses, which were cracked at the bend into the fuel tanks. Although not leaking yet—the inside liner was intact—they had only another season before they would have failed.
When you’re doing your spring start up and annual service, check all your hoses and gaskets even if they’re hard to get to. And always keep your nose detector working.