Boating with friends? Help fill the tank ... or walk the plank
Seattle Times staff reporter
We're here on the high seas to ask the ever-burning question:
If you get asked to be a guest on somebody's boat to see the Fourth of July fireworks or water ski this weekend, should you help pay for gas?
Or to put it in boaters' lingo:
With marine gasoline nudging $3 gallon at some pumps, matey, does offering to bring a six-pack cut it any more? Arrr!
For a clue to why you should consider chipping in, keep your eye on the numbers whirling upward at this pump at Morrison's North Star Marine fuel dock on Lake Union, while we talk to boat owners.
Boat in question: 64 feet
Price of diesel (only boats under 30 feet generally use regular gas): $2.29 a gallon
Gallons pumped in so far: 96
Here comes glass artist David Huchthausen in his 48-foot prize-winning 1957 Stephens Brothers classic. He's filling his tanks, which hold 400 gallons in all, and will burn a bunch of it immediately for two cruises he's donating to charity.
"I guess everyone has their own etiquette, but as far as I'm concerned, if I invite people, I pay for it," Huchthausen says, adding that a long trip to Canada might be different.
To even bring it up is a "poor man's conversation" others on the dock agree because fuel — though up four bits a gallon over last year — is still a small part of the cost of owning a boat compared with moorage, insurance, licensing and the $100-plus bucks a gallon for bottom paint and other maintenance.
Nonetheless, Steve Tomlinson, who has been up since 5 a.m. varnishing his 1948 30-foot Chris Craft classic, offers a different view.
"This boat doesn't run on thanks," reads a sign on his boat. Avast!
His boat might run two or three times on thanks, but not a fourth time for guests who don't inquire about costs. Friends who are otherwise generous with their assets assume the fuel tank — and larder — is full.
"They just think it shows up by accident," says Tomlinson, arms stretched out over the top of a bench as he talks and laughs. "They're just not aware of what gas costs. A trip to Roche Harbor and back can be $300 or $400 in fuel." (By contrast, you could probably get to the far side of San Juan Island and home for less than $100 by car and ferry)
Over at Shilshole Bay Marina, David Miner agrees. It's rare that friends offer to help pay for gas, but "it would be considerate," Miner says. "It would be appreciated."
Miner rides his bike or takes the bus to work to save gas but he won't cut back on taking his 50-foot powerboat out on cruises because that is his pleasure. Besides, there are other savings. He and his wife will anchor this weekend to watch the July 3 fireworks in Poulsbo, which saves them car fuel, ferry, motel or marina tie-up costs.
A quick glance at how our 64-foot boat is getting along at the pump:
359 gallons and flying.
Regular gas is more expensive at marine fuel docks because of the short season, higher transportation costs and extra staffing to guard against spills on the water. But because boats don't use the highway, owners who save their receipts can get most of the money they pay in fuel taxes back by applying to the Department of Licensing.
By contrast, diesel, the preferred fuel for bigger boats, sells for the same or lower price than on the street but comes in a tax-free version with a red dye to show road taxes haven't been applied.
Checking our pump, the 64-foot boat stops at 600 gallons or $1,239.80, including a high-volume discount.
Some stock analysts expect sales of boats to slacken next year because of high fuel costs and high interest rates, but the Seattle Boat Company, among others, says it is experiencing record sales this year for 20- to 140-foot powerboats with price tags ranging from $30,000 to $14 million.
The biggest boats have 5,000-gallon tanks but also their own centrifuge or refining system that pulls out impurities from the fuel, James Baker of Seattle Boat Company says, so they can use a lower grade. Speed is also a factor in how much fuel gets gobbled.
But, as a general rule of thumb, if you're out this weekend and want to cover fuel costs, you should stick $30 in your captain's pocket if you're on a 30-foot boat for two hours or $150 for two hours on a 140-footer, Baker suggests.
Attendants at Elliott Bay fuel dock at the foot of Magnolia say they see one or two people a weekend who rush to pay before the captain gets to the cash register.
But sometimes they amend their offer when they see the price to "Oh, my, I'll pay for half."
That's the problem, say Deb and Dave Lord, Shilshole live-aboards who laugh as they say they've "never had a friend pay for anything!"
People assume you're rich if you own a boat. And, if the tank holds 140 gallons, as their sailboat does, "You feel kind of cheesy saying, 'Hey! How about $20?' " Deb Lord says.
Lest the guest be considered a "passenger for hire," which would require the captain to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, all contributions must be voluntary.
Some people say fuel isn't a problem on the Fourth of July on the south end of Lake Union — fuel for the boat or the passenger, that is — because boats are moored so close together people don't need to burn gas to travel. They can almost walk on water, stepping from deck to deck.
In addition, since it's often "amateur night" with boats jostling to get back into marinas, many old salts throw parties onboard but never leave their slip.
Tyler Johnson of Olympia and his band of "local yahoos," all Seattle-area college students, will be out there for the first time in Johnson's new 21-foot speedboat. But they've already found their way around the high cost of gas.
"We go out in the middle and we turn it off."
Sherry Stripling: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company