EU directive's new diesel with biofuel can have detrimental effect on marine engines

A new grade of diesel fuel, known as Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) will have to

be used by many leisure vessels and yachts after the 14th January,


The introduction of ULSD is required by EU Directive. ULSD contains only 10 parts per million of sulphur, less than existing diesel. The reduction of sulphur will not harm the

majority of existing boat engines but some will require the use of an

additive to make up for the loss of its lubricating effect. Yachtsmen

are strongly recommended to enquire of their engine manufacturer whether

an additive is needed.

 Much of the new fuel will contain a proportion of FAME –

Fatty Acid Methyl Ester. This is a bio-fuel obtained from renewable

sources intended to reduce consumption of the world’s limited oil

supply. It can, however, have a seriously detrimental effect on some

marine engines. It is known to make worse the problems of ‘bugs’ in

tanks causing blocked filters, break-down to acids leading to engine

equipment damage and leakage from fuel component seals.

The storage

life of fuel with FAME is also much reduced and it may necessitate

costly tank emptying over winter and even disposal of contents for many

yachts and motor vessels.

 The Department of Transport

has said that up to 75 per cent of the new fuel may be free of FAME but

this cannot be guaranteed. FAME-free fuel may therefore become

unavailable in some areas of the UK.

The Cruising Association is concerned at the

situation and has written to the Under Secretary of State at the

Department of Transport, who is in charge of the matter, urging him to:


ban FAME in all marine diesel because of the risk of catastrophic

engine failure at sea and the cost and difficulty of cleaning

contaminated fuel from boat tanks and engine systems, and

* to require fuel outlets to notify users at point of sale of the specification and contents of their fuel.

 The Association is advising yachtsmen to ask their supplier the age and sulphur content of the fuel, whether it needs any additives (to make up for the reduction in sulphur content)and whether it contains FAME. 

Fuel outlets will be able to supply only the new grade of fuel to

vessels which do not normally operate beyond the limits of category A

and B waters or the deep lakes and lochs of Category C – defined as “Tidal rivers and estuaries and

large, deep lakes and lochs where the significant wave height could not

be expected to exceed 1.2 metres at any time”. 

Recreational craft which are outside of these

areas and ‘go to sea’ may still use the existing fuel which has the

higher level of 1000ppm of sulphur if it can be obtained.