Confession: Lack of training leads to petrol bombshell

In this month’s Confession one first-timer makes a major schoolboy error, despite his careful planning

I’m sharing my confession with you as I hope it may persuade some people buying or thinking of buying a boat to consider an RYA day skipper course, as after my first boating schoolboy error I have now taken one myself.

I moved to Torpoint in Cornwall in February. My new house is a few yards from the River Tamar and a short ferry ride over to Plymouth.

Being so close to the sea I decided to take up fishing again and went down to the river on many trips with the guy living next door to me.

I had always wanted a boat. It was the boy in me dreaming of a 40ft Sunseeker; however I settled for an 18ft sea safe Pacific 550, which I bought after weeks of looking.

Being new to boating I sourced a few books and a local chart and harbour guide. And as Plymouth is a naval port I learnt about the harbour rules; I also learnt the collision regs and how to navigate. I also purchased a VHF radio and lifejackets.

Recommended videos for you

I picked the boat up from the vendor on a Tuesday morning and was itching to get out fishing, so that night on high tide at 10.30pm my two friends and I went to the boat, checked the nav lights to make sure they all worked and made other basic preparations before setting off on our adventure.

I had also taken a jerrycan of diesel so we had plenty for the trip. We went to an area of deep water off Plymouth called Devil’s Point and had intended to motor a further two miles back up the River Tamar. However, by this time we had run out of fuel so we anchored after around five minutes.

We drifted and concluded that the small anchor we had was not big enough to hold the boat. As such I asked my friend to refill the fuel tank so we could reposition the boat.

He filled the tank and I turned the key and the 50hp Mariner spluttered into life for a few seconds then cut out. A few more pumps on the primer and I tried again.

Smoke billowed from the outboard and this continued for several minutes before my friend saw the green jerrycan in a storage bin and said to me: “Are you sure it takes diesel?”

After smelling the jerrycan it soon became clear that I had just instigated the pouring of 20 litres of diesel into a petrol outboard. To complicate matters we were now adrift in a deep channel were also nearing rocks.

New to boating, I didn’t know who to call or on what channel, so I decided to try 101 (the
non-emergency number).

The operator took our location, the number of people on board and the boat details to pass on to the coastguard; minutes later we got a call back from them and they advised us they were sending help.

Being a naval port, an MOD police cutter patrols the river and harbour 24/7 and before long the police boat arrived to tow us to safety. While they were throwing us a line the coastguard raised us on our VHF to ensure help had arrived and check that all was well.

We were towed to a local marina and safe mooring till the next day, when we could arrange to have the boat fixed and return to our own mooring.

The harbourmaster was very understanding and after we had replaced the fuel tank and flushed the outboard, the engine fired up and we headed back home.

The police were helpful and the main thing was that my friends and I were safe – just a little embarrassed. However, it’s a mistake that won’t happen again and has taught me a lot.

Next time we went out there were no issues and I have now taken an RYA day skipper course. It was something I should have done before as I was always surprised that anyone could just buy a boat and go out on the water.

But just because you can, should you? I say “no”. OK an RYA course won’t teach you to take the right fuel, but it will give you all you need to know should the worst happen and who to call for help in a given situation.

Now all I want is to upgrade the boat and enjoy all that the coast of Devon and Cornwall has to offer in safety and comfort.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


Latest videos