Gas prices taking wind out of boaters' sails

Sunday, May 27, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Donnie Williams cringes when he sees the cost of tanking up his family's personal water craft for a day of wave running on Table Rock Lake.

Williams plans to continue cove-hopping on his houseboat, but he will skimp on running another boat he uses for water skiing. And the Springfield auto service shop owner says the rising price of boat fuel appears to be keeping some people off the water.

"We were down [May 13], and it was like a ghost town. It was weird," he said.

A gallon of boat fuel cost $3.89 a few days before the Memorial Day weekend at the marina at Table Rock Lake State Park in Branson, Mo.

There are several reasons boat fuel costs more than gas for your car, said John Buchanan, an analyst with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Energy Center.

Most marinas don't sell as much gasoline as land-bound service stations and that boosts the costs marinas have to pass on to customers, Buchanan said.

The demand for boat fuel is seasonal, running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so marinas have to make most of their revenue from fuel during that time, he said.

Marinas also have to spend more on facilities that prevent spills, he said, and that adds to costs.

Buchanan, who boats on the Lake of the Ozarks, said he calculated that his boat gets the equivalent of a quarter-mile per gallon in mileage. It has a 200-gallon fuel tank.

The bill for filling up that boat would be even more if boat fuel prices kept pace with motor vehicle fuel prices, he said.

It might not seem so, but he said marine fuel prices are increasing at a slower pace.

State Park Marina manager Pat Cox said he expects fuel prices to hit a plateau soon.

"I think after Memorial Day, we should see it turn stable," he said. "That's what I hear from my suppliers."

There are ways boaters can save on fuel costs, said Larry Goudy, who owns G and G Marina on Lake of the Ozarks.

His marina and others participate in the Boat US program that gives a 10-percent refund to members, he said. They simply show a membership card when getting fuel.

Also, boat maintenance -- including cleaning the hull, running the engine at between 3,000 to 3,500 revolutions per minute and making sure the propeller isn't damaged -- can help, he said.

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