Propane Safety

By Don Casey

Propane Tank

There is a tendency to think of gas as something that disperses into the air, but this is a dangerous mischaracterization when the gas is propane. Propane is heavier than air, so it flows downhill like water. If you have a propane leak inside your boat, the gas will accumulate in the bilge — a bomb waiting to be ignited.

You must never mount propane tanks inside your boat. If you want them off the deck, they must be in a vapor-tight locker. A safe propane locker is fully isolated from the boat's interior, opens only above deck, and has a drain at the bottom to let leaking gas escape over the side.

Of course, such a locker will only contain leaks at the tank. To protect yourself against fuel line and/or appliance leaks, turn the gas off at the tank when not cooking, and learn the habit of flipping the fuel shut-off while one burner is still burning to safely empty the supply line. Every boat with propane aboard should also have one or more gas detectors — called "sniffers" — mounted low in the boat.

Don Casey has been one of the most consulted experts on boat care and upgrades for 30 years, and is one of the BoatUS Magazine's panel of experts. He and his wife cruise aboard their 30-footer part of the year in the eastern Caribbean. His books include Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual, and the recently updated This Old Boat, the bible for do-it-yourself boaters.


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