Fuels and their Fumes
For many boaters, an enjoyable time on the water includes having all of the creature comforts that they are used to having at home such as hot water, heating and cooling, and a stove or grill. While having these items may make
for a more enjoyable cruise, they must be handled much more carefully on a boat, and may operate very differently
from their shore side counterparts.
Hot water heaters, stoves, grills, air conditioners and heating systems all need fuel to operate. Types of fuel include electricity, alcohol, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG-propane or butane), charcoal, kerosene, and diesel. Each fuel has specific characteristics, both pro and con, that you need to know before you
use it for a particular piece of equipment.
Pros and Cons:
CNG-Compressed Natural Gas is natural gas liquefied under high pressure. (approx. 2250psi) CNG fumes can combine with oxygen to form a powerful explosive.
Though CNG fumes are lighter than air and will generally dissipate through open ports and hatches, care must be used with CNG appliances. Manufacturers include additives in CNG to make it smell strongly. Nothing beats a nose to sniff out gas fumes!
LPG - Liquefied petroleum gas is really two different gases that are generally classed together and are interchangeable. Propane and butane are both used in LPG appliances and have some advantages over CNG.
LPG has a much higher heat output (21,000 BTUs/lb. for LPG vs. 9,000 BTUs/lb. for CNG) LPG also operates at
One thing to note, if you boat in cold weather, propane is preferable to butane, as butane has difficulty vaporizing in extremely cold weather and might not allow an appliance to work properly. One drawback to LPG is that fumes are heavier than air, and can build up to dangerous levels in bilge compartments. Even a small spark can signal the
end of your boat!
Kerosene is also used on boats for heating, lighting, and to a lesser extent, cooking. Kerosene must be totally clean
for it to work properly, and the whiter the kerosene the better. If you have yellow kerosene DO NOT use it in your burners, as it may clog your burner with carbon deposits.
Alcohol is used largely for stoves and is a relatively safe fuel. Denatured ethyl alcohol does not burn very hot- it may take quite some time to boil water on an alcohol stove. One of the best aspects of alcohol is that a flame can be put out with water. Like kerosene, alcohol must be clean for an appliance to work properly.
Electricity is probably the safest "fuel" that you can use on a boat. There are no explosive fumes, no pressurized fuel system that can develop dangerous leaks.
Electricity's main drawback is the large amount of current most appliances need to operate properly. Large current demands that many appliances need require boats to be hooked up to shore power or to have a generator.
fuels must be properly stored on a boat. Safety devices such as fume sniffers
should be considered for boats equipped with any gas system. Remember, gasoline
should NEVER be used to fuel any on board appliance other than a generator or
main engine. Gasoline is extremely volatile and its fumes are deadly.