Keep Your Corn

Thoughts on Ethanol from the Captain's Chair

March 2017 Feature Brady L. Kay

This article originally appeared in our 2016 September issue. If you are interested in seeing more stories like this, click HERE to subscribe.  

Many years ago before cornhole had really caught on, I got stopped on the dock late one night by a couple of crazy-eyed, shirtless old men who insisted (in their best Kentucky accents of course) that I go with them for “sum carn’ hole!” I had no idea what they were talking about and to be honest I was a little terrified. I jumped in my boat as fast as I could and decided right then I was out of there and they could keep their corn.

Had I known at the time those guys were just referring to basically a game of bean bag toss that is now popular at many marina docks across the country, I might have stayed and played…maybe. I’m a big guy but they were still a little crazy-looking and I was probably wise to fear for my life.

Today, I’m still using the phrase “keep your corn” but it no longer applies to dock games, but rather to a huge problem in our industry. Signed into law in 2005, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires an increasing amount of biofuels such as corn ethanol to be blended into the gasoline supply. When it was written, the RFS assumed America’s use of gasoline would continue to grow. However, since 2005 gasoline usage has actually declined steadily which today forces more ethanol into each gallon of gas we buy.

To keep up with the RFS mandate, in 2010 the EPA permitted E15 (fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol) into the marketplace. Even though E15 is prohibited for use in marine engines, snowmobiles, motorcycles, lawnmowers, and any vehicle made before 2001, it can now be found in 23 states and it is causing havoc for many of us.

The RFS requirement to put more corn ethanol into gasoline is having negative consequences towards those in our industry who build, maintain, store or sell boats. Service issues because of ethanol are on the rise and according to some sources are up from even just a year ago, the biggest problem being the accidental misfuelings at roadside gas stations when boat owners are not paying attention to the type of gas they’re buying. 

“Misfueling is our number one concern,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Senior Program Manager David Kennedy. “About 40 percent of over half a million BoatUS members report filling up the family boat at a gas station and another 35 percent use portable gas cans.”

Continuing to make the connection between the Federal ethanol mandate and the negative consequences to recreational boat owners, while ethanol may be helping drive service department business, frequent issues run the risk of driving more people out of boating.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the recreational boating industry in the United States has an annual economic impact of more than $121.5 billion, supporting 650,015 direct and indirect American jobs and nearly 35,000 businesses.

So when you hear of boaters petitioning to end the ethanol mandate or owners fearing for their boat’s engine, now you have a better understanding of why it’s so important to all of us. At this annual increased rate, ethanol-blended fuel will soon be pushing the upper limit of what most of our car engines are certified to use, so this problem is only going to get worse.

Regardless of where you stand politically, at the very least be smart and look for ethanol-free gas stations and keep this corn out of your boats. At some point, I would imagine that even engine repair shops are getting tired of seeing all these boats coming in. Maybe these overworked shops would prefer a game of cornhole instead. I can recommend a dock if they’re interested.





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