Types of Boat Fuel Tanks

Posted by MarineFuel News
October 15th, 2009
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Several different types of fuel tanks exist for motorized boats. The right boat fuel tank for you will depend upon your boat size, kind of marine fuel, and personal preferences. Here are some details on each of the major boat fuel tank types, along with information about other factors to consider when choosing a tank…


The most common materials manufacturers make boat fuel tanks from are polyethylene and aluminum. Fiberglass and stainless steel units can also be located, but remain less prevalent. Each of these types have their own advantages and disadvantages.

POLYETHYLENE: A major advantage of tanks made from this material (also referred to as “plastic”) is that they aren’t susceptible to corrosion. These tanks are usually long-lasting and cost less than other types. According to iboats.com, they are “incredibly durable” and much more reliable than aluminum units. However, some of them cannot be used to store diesel fuel.

FIBERGLASS: One of the less common types of boat fuel tanks is the fiberglass tank. Like other non-metal tanks, they aren’t affected by corrosion. Fiberglass tanks remain more expensive than polyethylene and available from fewer suppliers. If buying a used fiberglass tank, avoid units made before the mid-’80s unless you only use ethanol-free gasoline.

ALUMINUM: Metal tanks cost more than polyethylene but are considered stronger. Many can hold either diesel or gasoline. However, they often corrode and develop leaks. The thicker the aluminum, the less corrosion and other problems occur. Stainless steel units have some of the same problems. One advantage of aluminum is that it weighs less than steel, plastic, or fiberglass, reducing fuel consumption and making installation easier.

If a tank fails before the boat it’s installed in, it is generally a good idea to replace it with a unit made from a different material. The new material may have a greater potential to withstand the specific conditions and fuel types it is exposed to.


Some engines have built-in tanks, including many small outboard motors. These tanks don’t hold as much marine fuel as external units, but they are easier to transport and install.


A few boat fuel tanks are installed below the outboard motor (“transom mounted”), while others go on or under the boat’s deck. Placement affects ease of installation and replacement, as well as susceptibility to damage. Most transom-mounted units hold three to six gallons.

Certain below-deck tanks have a “v-bottom”, meaning that the base is shaped somewhat like the letter “V” rather than being flat; this helps to maximize capacity. Usually, no substantial cost difference exists between flat and “v-bottom” types.


Some boaters also make use of portable containers made to transfer fuel from a filling station to the boat’s installed tank. These usually have carrying handles. Most carry 3-20 gallons, and many units have a fuel level gauge. Some of the more expensive portables feature a pump and built-in wheels (like the Moeller Marine 006792). Most are polyethylene; steel units have the potential to rust.


Here are a few other useful facts about boat fuel tanks:

1. Tank capacities start at about three gallons, excluding integrated units.

2. Be aware that some tanks are only designed to contain gasoline, not diesel.

3. Protective bladder tanks are available but not in widespread use.


Most boaters select either aluminum or polyethylene fuel tank types, with polyethylene holding the most popularity. Integrated outboard or transom-mounted tanks are desirable for small boats, while large vessels often use high capacity below-deck units. Some boat owners also carry portable containers, which allow them to power engines without directly pumping fuel into the boat’s installed tank.

1. U.S. Coast Guard, “Boating Safety Circular 79″, April 1997
2. Google Product Search
3. iboats.com
4. ScienceRay.com
5. Outboard Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair By Edwin R. Sherman


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