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Ethanol still a significant challenge, survey says

By Jonathan Sweet

Growing number of readers report ethanol-related problems

Despite efforts to educate boaters about concerns over ethanol in general and E15 in particular, those in the industry are seeing a growing number of problems caused by the fuel.

That’s according to the latest Boating Industry reader survey. We surveyed our readers via email in May to find out more about their views on ethanol and other service department challenges. Respondents were a mix of individuals working in the industry including dealers, manufacturers, marina personnel and more.

Ethanol repairs increasing

Boating Industry readers continue to report seeing more problems with engines and other boat components caused by ethanol. 

Ninety-two percent of our respondents said they have seen damage in their business caused by ethanol. That was up from 87 percent last year and 73 percent in 2015. 

That damage can mean bigger repair bills – and more business for the service department – but the long-term effect may be to drive people out of boating, many respondents said.

“Ethanol fuels are great for our service department but bad for our customers!” said a Minnesota boat dealer.

According to our readers, ethanol is also the cause of a significant number of boat repairs in their businesses. More than 15 percent of readers said that based on what they are seeing in their business, more than half of the necessary repairs are being caused by ethanol-related issues. Nearly 62 percent said that more than 20 percent of problems are caused by ethanol. Those numbers have held basically steady over the last three years.

Concerned over E15

Boating Industry readers continue to be worried about the use of E15, with 85 percent saying they are very concerned about it. An additional 14 percent were somewhat concerned.

It’s worth noting that the federal government and the boating industry both say fuels containing more than 10 percent ethanol (E10) should not be used in boats or other recreational equipment such as ATVs or PWC.

The larger concern identified by many in the industry is the danger of misfueling by boaters that fill up at a roadside gas station and may not be aware of the potential danger. For example, a 2015 BoatUS survey of its members found that 40 percent of its members said they fueled their boats at a roadside gas station.

Said a Missouri marina owner: “Ethanol is a great profit area for us however it is a shame that customers are so ignorant to the facts. We instruct them time after time; some get it, some don’t.”

Source: Boating Industry survey, May 2017

Other surveys have also illustrated that problem. Earlier this year, Harris Poll conducted a survey of U.S. consumers on behalf of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

In that study, 63 percent of consumers said they assumed that any fuel sold at a gas station was safe for all of their equipment and vehicles. Additionally, only 55 percent said they read labels on gas pumps, such as those that would warn against using E15 in a prohibited application.

Source: Boating Industry survey, May 2017

Most Boating Industry readers consider themselves to be fairly well informed about ethanol issues.

More than 60 percent said they know a lot about the pros and cons of ethanol, while an additional 37 percent said they know something. Only 2 percent said they know a little bit about the issue. That’s improved from last year when 8 percent of readers said they knew nothing or a little bit about ethanol.

On the other hand, respondents believe there’s still work to be done in educating consumers about potential ethanol challenges. Only 6 percent said their customers now a lot about the issue, while 26 said their customers know some about ethanol. Twelve percent said their clients know nothing about ethanol, while 57 percent know a little bit about it. That represents a slight improvement from 2016, when a total of 74 percent said their customers knew nothing or only a little bit about ethanol.

Finding service techs

We also asked readers about other service department challenges and the overriding No. 1 concern is still finding and keeping good service technicians.

Of those respondents that have a service department, 66 percent said it was very difficult to find qualified service techs. An additional 24 percent said it was somewhat difficult. Only 7 percent said that it was neither easy or difficult, while 3 percent said it was easy.

That challenge has only gotten more difficult for many readers. Fifty-seven percent of those with service departments said it was more difficult this year than in the past and 25 percent said it was much more difficult. Only 1 percent said it was easier, while 42 percent said it is about the same.   

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