By Capt. Adam Peeples
While sportfish captains in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and beyond have using fuel bladders to extend the limits of their range for some time, up until a few years ago it was not a common sight at billfish tournaments to see a center console loaded for bear, packing 200 gallons or more of extra fuel on the deck.
Legendary captain and angler Dr. JJ Tabor and his team shattered all preconceived notions of what a center console can accomplish by winning the 2015 Blue Marlin Grand Championship out of Orange Beach, Alabama. Carrying an extra 150-gallons of fuel in a bladder on the deck, Tabor and his team caught the winning blue marlin while making an 800-mile round trip aboard his 42 Freeman.
Tabor and company hooked the fish on the final morning of the tournament, ultimately putting the winning blue marlin on the deck around 11 a.m. At that point, they were around 300-miles from Orange Beach and had to make the weigh-in no later than 6:30 pm for the fish to count. With the speed that only a high-performance center console can provide, Dr. Tabor and his team were able to make the weigh-in and win the tournament, even with a stop for extra fuel on the way home.
This signature win demonstrated to the tournament scene and everyone watching that center console crews were no longer in these major marlin tournaments just for the wahoo and tuna calcuttas. With the ability to hold extra fuel and the speed of an outboard-powered center console, crews such as Tabor’s may now even hold a slight advantage over the larger, slower sportfish boats given the right conditions.
While rigging a fuel bladder on the deck of a center console may sound simple enough, there are many unique safety precautions that should be adhered to in order to transport and use gasoline safely aboard an open fishing boat. The obvious difference between transporting diesel in a bladder versus gasoline is the extremely volatile nature of gasoline. With a much lower flash point than diesel, gasoline vapors always have a very high chance of ignition with even the smallest of sparks.
A fuel bladder filled with gasoline sitting in the sun on the deck of a center console is a potential fireball waiting to happen. Aside from the obvious rule of no smoking on the boat, care should be taken that there is no exposed wiring or any other potential spark producer on or near the boat while carrying gasoline on the deck. In addition to the fire hazard of gasoline, a 250-gallon bladder weighs in around 1500-pounds.
Securing the Bladders on Deck
This extra weight must be secured properly to ensure it does not slide around on the deck. Care must also be taken to ensure that your vessel is not overloaded with the extra weight of fuel in addition to all the gear and crew on board. A center console at or above load capacity could experience a catastrophic event in moderate or heavy seas if the bladder were to shift hard to one side.
Tabor recommends using a series of 2” nylon ratchet straps to form a cradle for the bladder, thus ensuring it does not shift while underway in rough seas. Dr. Tabor credits the stability and load carrying ability of his Freeman 42LR to safely transport his crew, gear, and 250-gallons of extra fuel to the fishing grounds.
Fuel Transfer Considerations
Transferring fuel from the bladder to the main tank is another step that must be taken with safety in mind. Most crews use a transfer pump to lift the gas from the bladder into the main fuel tanks. Care must be taken to ensure that the transfer pump is designed for gasoline and not for diesel. The internal design of gasoline transfer pumps is different than that of diesel pumps and using an incorrect and/or cheap transfer pump could lead to an accident.
After burning off enough fuel in the tanks to make room for the fuel in the bladder, the transfer pump can then empty the bladder into the main tanks. The empty bladder can then be safely stowed out of the way. In addition, it is recommended to only transport a fuel bladder on the deck when it is full. Although some crews may be tempted to run a direct line from the bladder to their outboard fuel lines and let the motors drain the bladder while underway, a half-empty bladder is much more prone to shifting and sliding on the deck. Unlike the main fuel tanks in center consoles, there are no baffles to prevent the fuel from sloshing around inside the bladder.
The success of Dr. Tabor and other center console crews on the blue marlin tournament circuit has made it clear that high-performance center consoles are fully capable of competing with the sportfishing yacht crews who have traditionally dominated these competitions. Modern center console boats have the capability of making over 1000-mile journeys with the extended range fuel bladders provide. “Going long” is no longer a shortcoming of the center console crew.
This extended range, coupled with the ability to cruise at high speeds for long distances will often give the center console crew more time with baits in the water. They can get to the marlin grounds first and be the last to leave (not to mention the fact that speed and range gives the opportunity to tournament fish in areas that are out of reach to others). These advantages alone will likely lead to more center console tournament wins in the future.
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