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post #22 of Old 12-12-2008
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Wink A Thesis on the Perils of alcohol!

These posts regarding Alcohol vs. Propane have peeked my curiosity. The more I look at the issue, the more I find a strong unfounded bias against Alcohol. Many people seem to be willing to rule in favor of Propane, based on unsubstantiated evidence. In a post in this thread, somebody states that Propane is much safer than alcohol because he knows someone who was burnt using Alcohol. Hardly a statistical analysis. Surely he has heard of at least one boat being blown apart due to a Propane explosion! On another site, I found this post regarding the same issue:
"I have used and owned all three types of stoves, with the exception of the non-pressurized alcohol. I have first hand experience with a propane explosion involving 2 fatalities, and I have first hand experience with an alcohol fire. The propane was human error, and you will find that the majority of propane fires are a result of human error. The alcohol fire was a result of not being able to see the flame, and the primer spilling while underway.
My "opinion" and I admit that that is what it is, is that the convenience of propane out weighs the danger when compared to pressurized alcohol or diesel. As the cooks enthusiasm about sailing is not quite as strong as mine, functionality in the galley is paramount to her continued willingness to cruise. The propane cooker fits that bill".
This guy apparently saw two people die from a Propane explosion, and experienced a Alcohol fire (I assume injuries would have mentioned if there were any) that I would guess, may have been related to too much primer (If so, also "human error"). He still comes out ruling in favor of Propane in the name of "convenience"! It's amazing! I wonder if the "cook" read the post!
I Goggled "Boat explosion Propane" and "Boat explosion Alcohol" and did the same with "fire". One of the first sites that came up for Propane was this from the Coast Guard, which spells out in detail how a leaky joint in a Propane line caused an explosion on a sailboat:
The sites that came up for Alcohol tended to be things like gasoline explosions where people had been drinking alcohol!
Even Boat US seems a little conflicted about the issue!
Here are some quotes from Boat US's on line boating safety course (highlights added for Sailingdogs benefit):
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 CONG. LPG has a much higher heat output (21,000 BTUs/lb. for LPG vs. 9,000 BTUs/lb. for CNG) LPG also operates at lower pressures. 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!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.
Heres a link if you want to see the entire section on "fueling your boat"
BoatUS Foundation

On the other hand, you were correct Sailingdog. Boat US does speculate that the reduction in stove related fires might be attributed to fewer alcohol stoves on new boats.

"6) Stove 1% "
"Stove fires appear to be less common (1%) than in the past, probably due to fewer alcohol stoves being installed on new boats. Still, alcohol can be a dangerous fuel; though it canít explode, an alcohol flame is hard to see. One fire was started when a member tried to light the stove and gave up because he couldn'tít see the flame. Unfortunately, he had succeeded, but didn'tít realize it until he got a call from the fire department."
Isn't it interesting that in talking about how dangerous alcohol is, they state that it "can't explode". An obvious reference to one of Propanes major dangers, yet that risk is never even mentioned in connection with Propane (as it clearly was in the safety course).
Having used a pressurized alcohol stove often, the "members" story doesn't ring true. Assuming he was using a pressurized system (I can't address anything else), he should have clearly smelt the alcohol when he primed the system. You can also hear (gurgling) and see the fuel. When you put a match to it, it pops when it ignites, and burns with a orange/blue flame, which turns bright blue when vaporized. I have NEVER had any problem seeing the flame in my galley (in direct sunlight, yes (tested it on concrete and its so invisible it is scary!)...In the galley, NO). So...this "member" obviously intended to heat or cook something, apparently used A LOT of fuel to prime his stove (properly primed, my stove would just burn itself out if I left it unattended) couldn't get the stove lit (or so he "thought"!, (wouldn't he feel the heat from that much fuel?)), changed plans, locked up the boat (apparently very quickly, as he didn't smell burning curtains, fiberglass or wood) with a fire burning that was was so large it eventually bunt the boat down. By the way, if you over prime a alcohol stove, the fumes from the liquid fuel burning are literally breath taking. It's a weird sensation, you could never mistake the fumes for anything else.
It seems to me that Mr. "Member" was probably having a hard time selling his boat, and Boat US was the only buyer in the market (just a theory of course)! I would have thought Boat US's fraud department would have been all over this one! Instead, they use it as an example of the evils of alcohol fuel!
Boat US goes on to say:
"Only one fire was started by propane; a portable stove fell off a counter and ignited a cushion."
Only a cushion was lost? Oh my! Then Propane MUST be safer! No time reference (past year, etc.)is given for the statistics.
Here is the link: - Seaworthy Magazine

I come to this discussion as someone who was leary of alcohol stoves (do to the hype), until I used one. I don't understand it....The second shooter on the grassy knoll in Dallas, and the conspiracy against Alcohol Stoves. Neither will probably ever be solved. Embrace the Alcohol stove, it's your friend (as long as you use your head)! I was going to include photos of the "invisible" flame on my stove is but this post is too long already. I'll do a seperate post.

Last edited by L124C; 12-14-2008 at 04:34 PM.
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