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|Safe Boat Propane Installations
My intent with this article is not to encourage you to install your own propane system (leave that to a pro) but to help you determine if your existing system or the system on your prospective next boat is safe. The standards are much more detailed than what I present here but I think I have covered the key elements. A licensed gas fitter should be consulted prior to commencing any work on an LPG system.
1 . What are the relevant laws and standards for propane installations on boats.
2 . Show how a proper propane installation should be done.
3 . I'll break down the system one piece at a time showing photos of bad examples and why they are wrong.
The Law ! - Transport Canada Construction Standards For Small Vessels (TP1332E , 2010) does not even mention propane but have told me that propane systems that meet the standards of a recognized body are ok with them. How they reconcile diametrically opposed standards such as CE and ABYC® (American Boat and Yacht Council ) is beyond me (apparently it's beyond them too).
Some photos below will show why I think the CE standards are dangerous. unfortunartely they are allowed to import boats into North America unchallenged. If you are in the USA, your situation is pretty much the same as your law (CFR. Title 33) makes no mention of propane systems in pleasure craft at all. To quote Charles Dickens " The law is a ass - a idiot ".
The Standards - ABYC® Standard A-1 "Marine Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Systems" . All of the recommendations made below are based on ABYC® standards which I whole heartedly endorse but paraphrase in the interest of brevity. NFPA also has a recognized standard but since they are in tune with ABYC®, we'll stay with them.
|A. The Good
1. Locker Drain - Propane is heavier than air so the drain hose must lead from the bottom of the locker to outside of the hull above the static waterline and have a minimum inside diameter of not not less than 1/2" (this means you must use a 3/4" throughull and hose). This drain, like the locker itself must be dedicated. It cannot be T'd into a scupper hose like many CS boats.
2. Propane Tank - must be approved type with an OPD valve. No problem as you cannot buy or get any non-approved tanks filled anyway.
3. Controls - In order from the tank - first the pressure gauge, then regulator, then the solenoid shut-off. All such equipment must be inside the locker. Pressure gauges are often omitted by the DIY'r to save $12 but are a critical leak detection safety feature.
4. The Locker must be above the waterline, top loading with a tight fitting gasketed lid that opens to the atmosphere, be vapor tight to the interior of the vessel (all apertures to be sealed) and must be used for no other purpose. ie. don't keep your anchor in there.
Black line from locker to appliance if the fuel line. Green line is wire from solenoid to control panel. Note that the power supply to the solenoid is not clipped to the fuel line. This done to avoid having hot conductors on the hose.
|5. Fuel Hose - Type approved (UL21) hose or grade K or
L annealed copper in one continuous length
from the locker to the appliance, must be
chafe protected where it passes through bulkheads
and secured with clips (plastic). There must
be no other connections to this line outside
of the locker other than at appliance and
for your families sake, don't run it through
an engine compartment. The photos in the
next section will show why I don't like metal
fuel lines approved or not.
|6. Chafe protection - - Wherever the hose passes through a bulkhead
it must be chafe protected. You'll see why
in the following photographs.
|7. The appliances - Must have a flame failure device (thermocouple)
to shut off the fuel supply if the flame
goes out. Must not have a pilot light. Camping stoves are not
fitted with these.
|8. Control panel - The panel should have a shut-off switch
to activate the solenoid in the locker
light to show that it solenoid is open.
a propane fume detector alarm.
|9. The fume detector - The panel should also be fitted with a
fume detector test switch and alarm. The
sensor (s) themselves should be mounted directly
under the appliance. Many install the sensor
in the bilge. If the fumes reach the bilge
.... it's too late.
ABYC A-1, 1.5.2 Each system shall be fitted with a pressure gauge. The gauge shall read the cylinder pressure side of the pressure regulators.
ABYC A-1, 1.7.2 Each appliance shall be served with a separate low pressure, regulated fuel line that shall originate within the locker.
ABYC A-1, 1.7.3 A readily accessible manual or electrically operated (eg. solenoid) shut-off valve shall be installed in the low or high pressure line at the fuel supply.
|The Bad & The Ugly - A picture is worth a thousand words, but
I still couldn't resist adding a few :)
The tank - ABYC® Standard "A-1 Marine Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Systems" says that tanks must meet D.O.T or A.S.M.E. requirements. Pretty straight forward. As I said I don't know where one would buy a non-approved type tank.
|There are stainless steel, aluminum and fiberglass
tanks available but by far the most
are plain ol' painted steel like for
home BBQ and they all have advantages
It is becoming more difficult to find a place to refill your tanks as many outlets are moving to a tank exchange program. We found when traveling the ICW it was really difficult to get our tanks re-filled, so we have gone to the painted steel variety.
A little bit of surface rust can be cleaned and painted but when you see a tank like the one at far right, get rid of it.
If you see a small dent or hair line fracture regardless of tank material, get rid of it. Liquefied petroleum gas,although very safe if handled properly, is not to be toyed with.
Dented - Get rid of it !
Rusty - Get rid of it !
The fuel supply - ABYC® says you have two options for fuel lines,
1.) Corrosion resistant metallic tubing such
as annealed copper, grade K or L conforming
to ASTMB88-75a with a wall thickness of not
less than 0.032". or 2.) UL 21 approved type Gas Hose". ....
Buy the hose. It's cheaper, safer and easier
|Copper does corrode and quite quickly in
salt water in the right conditions. It also
suffers from fatigue due to vibration. Combine
the two and you have a relatively short life
span. The copper in your home plumbing system
does not vibrate at the 3200RPM of your Yanmar
nor hum like a tuning fork from your rig
vibration. Reduce vibration and protect the
line as much as possible by securing with
clips or straps. If you have copper lines,
the securing material must be galvanically
compatible. If the copper shows a crease
at a bend, corrosion or just looks old get
rid of it ...... unless your boat is a dock
queen in which case the copper will last
longer than you.
Flexible fuel lines don't last for ever either and should be replaced when they become hard or at the slightest sign of cracks.
Fuel hose against sharp FRP edge.
No chafe protection fitted.
Corroded copper fuel lines - to da
Rusty electric solenoid, you'd trust this ?
|ABYC® requires fuel lines be continuous
with the only joint between the propane locker
and the appliance being at the appliance.
I should put this in great big type (and
in French) All propane fuel connections must
be made inside the propane tank locker with
one more permitted at the appliance. Exception - A flexible section shall be used
at gimbaled appliances if copper tube
ABYC® says All hose connections must be made with permanently attached end fittings such as swaged sleeve of sleeve and threaded insert, not gear clamps !
Gear clamp fuel connection. Typical of
DIY installers and French builders
This copper to hose connection is bent and corroded. Again - get rid of it.
|At right - if you add up all the various connections
(including 4 gear clamps) you come up with
eight potential sources of propane leaks
in this engine compartment. This is a prime
example of why all connections must be made
inside the propane locker.
Far right - The poor installation of fittings in the propane locker of this brand new boat severely bends and stresses the fuel line. This hose will crack sooner rather than later.
Multiple gear clamp connections
exposed in the engine compartment.
New boat - hose so severely bent it will fracture sooner rather than later
|At right - Two valves and seven connections under the
aft berth without drainage ! Many French
boats are, and most Whitby and Hinterhoeller
(Niagara's and Nonsuch's) boats were built
with connections and valves inside accommodation
spaces like this.
Far right - This brass home plumbing gate valve is the "remote" propane shut-off device and is in the galley over the stove. Do you think this valve is gas rated ?
These valves are under the aft berth ....smart !
This plumbing gate valve is right over the stove and is the propane "remote" shut-off valve. Gas rated ?
|The locker - ABYC® says the locker should be "dedicated".
This means it should be used for no other
purpose and that it should be designed to
discourage other uses. It also means that
the drain (from the bottom of the locker)
should be dedicated and should not be T'd
into exhaust lines, scuppers or anything
else. The locker must be "top loading"
so leaked gas does not spill out when you
open the locker. and the hatch should be
gasketed. Also, the drain (min. 1/2"
I.D.) must exit the boat. All connections,
regulators, solenoids, pressure gauges....
in short any fitting must be inside the locker
This is pretty simple and is little more than common sense. The purpose of the locker is to contain propane leaks and direct any fumes safely overboard. Simple goal, simply achieved as propane is heavier than air. Now it is not so heavy that it can't be pushed around by a light breeze so we don't want any drain fitting next to a port.
|At right - DIY at it's finest. Honest, this is a genuine
photo from an actual survey. Once again proof
that Darwin was wrong or this guy would have
been extinct. I find it hard to believe that
I share DNA with this fella.
Far right - To shut off the propane on this C&C you have to remove 28 screws from the deck plate. Yes. They built it this way.
No drain, no remote shut-off, no easy access to shut-off valve, no pressure gauge, no approved fuel hose and no brains.
Remove 28 screws to remove the deck late then turn off the propane, no pressure gauge, no remote shut-off
|Right & Far right - Both of these French boats have propane
tanks openly stored in the cockpit. A slight
breeze from astern and any propane fumes
are going right down the companionway. That
is, if they make it past the lit cigarettes.
My experience with English cars convinced me that English people should not be allowed to play with electricity. My experience with French boats has convinced me that French people should not be allowed to play with propane.
I've heard that many French people are heavy smokers !
Note the CE certification label on the steering pedestal and the factory installed propane bottle open to the cockpit.
A CE certified boat. Thats not a tank securing strap, It's the fuel line going to a hole in the transom.
|Right - This Bayfield 36 has a side loading non-gasketed
locker. Any leakage is going right
cockpit. Hope there aren't any Frenchmen
Far right - This Marine Trader was built without any means on securing the tank which is exposed to all the non-ignition protected equipment under the helm and is only inches away from a pipe that leads all the hydraulic steering lines and electrical cables directly into the engine compartment.
I don't remember ever seeing a Taiwan trawler that wasn't built this way.
|At right - In the center you can see the copper fuel
line and in the lower right you can see the
rope and rusty chain. I had to remove the
very rusty anchor to get this photo of the
fuel line. The copper was fractured from all the pulling
back and forth to get it connected to the
Far right - This after market polyethylene propane locker is actually a pretty good product (when the lid is fitted) but this guy forgot to read the instructions. Propane is heavier than air but he connected the drain hose to the top and ran the fuel line out the drain hole at the bottom of the locker.
|At the Toronto Boat Show this week I looked
at one of the new Jeanneau powerboats, a
Jeanneau sailboat and a Dufour sailboat.
They all had side loading lockers ! The power
boat locker opened directly ( far right )over the engine compartment hatch with batteries
and a whole load of non-ignition protected
equipment directly underneath. On a side
note none of these boats had the Transport
Canada Certification label so were being
offered for sale against the laws of this
Transport Canada has abdicated.
Side loading, non-gasketed hatch of propane locker among other non-compliant issues on Dufour at 2012 Toronto Boat Show.
Side loading propane locker directly over 3 AC breakers and battery box in Jeanneau power boat at 2012 Toronto Boat Show
|At right - Toronto Boat Show - Jeanneau sailboat with
a side loading propane locker in the cockpit
with no gaskets which doesn't really matter
anyway since they put those pretty vent hole
in the door.
Far right - This fella went to the trouble of buying a proper poly propane locker (lid not shown) then installed it under his dinette and led a drain hose to a throughull higher than the top of the locker.
Jeanneau at Toronto Boat Show - side loading, no hatch gaskets which would have been pointless anyway since they put those vent holes in the hatch
Arrow points to drain hose outlet
The appliances - ABYC® says .... stoves are required to have
a means of securing cookware from sliding
and of normal operation when inclined to
30°, oven doors shall be fitted with
a latch and be installed in accordance with
manufacturers instructions. No fabrics within
27 1/2" of a burner and all other materials
within that range must be flame retardant.
All appliances must be fitted with flame
failure devices (thermocouples). The shut-off
(solenoid) switch must be near the stove
and be reachable without reaching over a
burner. A propane fume detector is required.
Other appliances - A CO alarm and oxygen
depletion sensor are required if a heater
is fitted. Each appliance shall be supplied
by a separate regulated supply line that
is continuous and originates inside the propane locker. Pilot lights are permitted
only in appliances with "room
Transport Canada says .... eh ?
Like many things on boats (battery chargers are a big one) just because it's in the boat and just because it's called "Marine Type" or it has a name that sounds nautical like Nautilus or Ship Mate.... does not mean it is actually marine grade equipment. The installation of even true marine grade equipment must still be done correctly.
|At right - The electrical connection at the back of
this propane furnace uses unsecured, non-enclosed
wire twist connectors ... outrageously stupid
Far right - My finger is pointing to a nipple right next to the burner on my propane stove. That little nipple is called a thermocouple and it shuts off the propane if the flame goes out, very clever and an absolute necessity. Unfortunately a large number of older so called marine and camping type stoves are not so equipped.
Thermocouple - Flame failure automatic shut-off
|Right - This "instant" water heater does
not meet ABYC® Standards and the manufacturers
installation instructions say "DO NOT
INSTALL IN A BOAT".
That did not seem to stop dozens of builders installing them in thousands of boats. There are a couple of these type that claim to be suitable for boats however after reading the installation manuals I think its highly unlikely they could be installed as required.
Far right - As an "un-attended appliance" without a sealed combustion chamber this heater does not meet ABYC® Standards and although I've never measured it, I've been told it gets far hotter than the standard permits. Be aware that these systems use tremendous amounts of oxygen and should not be used without CO and oxygen depletion alarms.
ANY propane appliance in a boat must have a sealed combustion chamber that does NOT draw air from inside the vessel. Neither of the two appliances at right meet this requirement.
Paloma Instant water heater
The Cat Platinum catalytic heater
|Photo at Right - If you look above the stove you will see
a fire extinguisher, a propane detector
and a switch to activate the solenoid
at the tank.
Far right - Now imagine a grease fire on the stove. How do you reach the solenoid switch to turn off the propane fuel supply ? How do you reach the fire extinguisher through the flames ? Does the steam from your kettle destroy the LED panel on the control ?
How about you're boiling a pot of water and you think you smell propane. Will you lean over the burner and reach through the steam to test your propane detector ?
Note that the owner has installed a fire extinguisher right next to the original factory locations of the solenoid shut-off switch and the fume detector.
Now imagine trying to get to your extinguisher or shut off the propane through a stove fire.
ok, so I'm not too good with photoshop !
|Just when you think you've seen it all .....
One of my all time favourite photos. This Darwin Award winner got hold of a natural gas furnace from a demolition yard sale and hooked it up to a couple of propane tanks. Do I need to say anything more ?
There are three entities who can correct this nonsense ..... Transport Canada (not much chance of that), The insurance companies (i'm convinced most of them don't even read the surveys) and you, the consumer. As long as you are willing to write a cheque this will continue.
I know I have been a bit hard on Transport Canada and I want to make it clear that my frustration is aimed at the ruptured bureaucratic quagmire that reportedly lives in a basement in Ottawa. I've had many interactions with the front liners at TC and found each and every one of them to be helpful, knowledgeable, generous with their time and show great patience with my bitching.
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