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Extending diesel storage capacity in a one off situation, with short funds




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What is the issue?
Extended cruises require more than a typical yacht's fuel tank capacity and supplementary jerry cans are normal on a blue water cruising yacht. However, there are the occasional peak fuel passages where you are likely to be becalmed for extended periods or are going into areas where fuel is scarce, undependable or is very expensive, where it makes sense to vastly increase your fuel carrying capacity before departing.

Why address this?
If you have an uncertain passage ahead it makes sense to increase your fuel carrying capacity for that occasion rather than regretting it later.

How to address this?
The best method of storing additional fuel on a yacht is via a fuel bladder/flexible storage tank or
Collapsible Fuel Jerry. But the downside of this is that they are expensive for those cruising on a modest budget.

We were caught in this predicament a couple of times where we had to provision for peak capacity and our solution was to forage around all the boat yards and even take a visit to the local dump to collect any serviceable old oil drums we could find.

Plastic drums are easily picked up for nothing save for the effort of cleaning them. If you do not wish to resort to searching yourself you will invariably find a scavenger who reclaims old oil drums and sells them on for a very small price. We avoided any cans that had contained agricultural or industrial chemicals and found ample old oil containers that we could use with the least effort. Our preference was for black containers as they were better able handle the sun on the deck and we never had a problem with them.

Two dumped oil drums we salvaged for additional diesel storage
Photo: Michael Harpur

Well in advance of departing we would clean the cans and dry them thoroughly by keeping them well-vented whilst baking in the sun. We lashed the cans to the deck and tied lines around them to make it easier to secure them in place, should any heavy weather be encountered.

You need to be careful when filling them in a port as many port authorities mandate that only certified fuel containers should be filled . We got caught by surprise with this and resorted to only filling the certified cans on deck and then dashing down below to quickly decant these into the old oil drums out of sight. Then we returned the legitimate empty jerry can for refilling, repeating this process over and over. The purpose being, by doing this, we were technically complying, if rather dubiously, with the fuel-handlers regulations of only pumping fuel into certified containers. We circumvented this situation afterwards by using my mother's old Irish saying of what the eye does not see, the heart will not feel and filled the repossessed containers down below decks, behind a facade of certified jerry cans that were clearly visible through the companionway.


Extra fuel cans can be lashed along the deck
Photo: Jo Schmaltz via CC BY SA 2.0 E


At the end of the leg, we just gave away the additional empties as they always found a home. If you want to increase your capacity in a one-off situation, are short on funds and do not want to retain that additional capacity, this can be very cost-effective approach.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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