Stupid Oil Storage

Stupid oil storage.

We used to think that plastic oil containers were great. They didn’t rust like the old-fashioned steel cans, were lightweight, and their flexibility made jamming them into tight spots easy.

When we’re passaging on BEOWULF we like to have 12 gallons of oil aboard-enough for three oil changes in case water gets into the engine oil and it needs to be flushed. As we carry the same type of oil most of the time, it may be that some of the gallon containers are older than others. In any event, when we returned to BEOWULF in the BVI, one of these containers, which was stored under our bunk, had leaked. Most of it was contained in the immediate area under the bunk and clean up, at anchor, was not a big deal.

The plastic jug had generated a small crack, about one third of the way up from the bottom. We moved the oil stored under the bunk to the engine room, where it would be easy to clean up, just in case another leak developed. Under the port aft cushion in the saloon is another liquids storage area. Here we keep hydraulic steering oil, watermaker high pressure lube oil, extra cans of WD40, McLube, antifreeze solution, Hynautics Controls liquids, and a couple of extra gallons of oil. Most of this has been aboard since BEOWULF left New Zealand, five years ago. We checked each of the containers, wiped them all clean, and put everything back.

Fast forward now to three days northwest of Panama. In the process of periodic checks of the interior bilge areas we notice a shiny brownish gray stain. Finger analyses, and a quick sniff indicates….oil! One of the containers under the saloon seat has leaked, and the oil has run down the port side of the hull, through 15′ of lockers, coating everything in its path with a nice scum. Yuck!!!

Neither of us feels like a thorough clean up job, so to prevent further spreading of the oil, we place oil absorbing mats in each locker. What is interesting is, unlike diesel, the oil does not seem to smell.

The mats work well, and in San Diego, where we clean up, they have absorbed almost all the loose oil. A couple of hours with Simple Green and a roll of paper towels, and all is pristine again.

Further examination of the plastic containers reveals that one of the anti-freeze and one Hynautics container have leaked.

We’re not about to change back to steel lube containers, but we are going to look into heavy duty plastic storage vessels, for liquids we expect to have on board for long periods of time. As for the engine lube oil, we are going to write the acquisition date on the containers, and make sure that we use the oldest first. This should reduce the risk of future problems.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (August 2, 2002)

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