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Old 10-30-2001
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Propane Plumbing

The propane system for my stove houses a portable LPG canister in the outboard well of my Pearson 26. Is this safe and does it meet ABYC standards?

Tom Wood responds:
I can't see the outboard well from here, or the configuration of the cockpit, but I have the feeling that you're treading on dangerous ground here. Most boats with outboard wells have the opening in the cockpit floor or under a lazarette-type lid in the aft deck. In the case of the outboard well in the cockpit floor when the boat is at rest, free-flowing propane would normally flow downward and out the hole in the bottom of the boat that accommodates the outboard engine's shaft. But underway, the quarter wave of the boat in motion often raises to fill the bottom portion of the outboard well, which would then force any airborne LPG up onto the cockpit floor. Without a deck-high bridgedeck, which few 26 footers have, the gas would be free to migrate down the companionway and into the cabin.

In the case of a well in the lazarette, there are usually access areas to the boat's interior that would have to be rectified. In either case, the LPG unit is housed right next to an outboard motor that is a notorious spark producer, and mingled with gasoline/oil fumes which would mask the smell of any LPG leakage.

To answer your question, I don't think that there is any way to make such a system safe, and certainly not to American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards without a total re-build and a lot of expensive parts.

However, there is one exception. Get the LPG bottle and connection out of the boat and up onto the stern rail, and then disconnect and store the hose from the bottle when not in use. Any leakage is up in free-flowing air this way, and is less likely to flow into the boat. If it does leak, you'll sense it with the best sniffer in the world—your nose. I have seen the little portable bottles housed in a piece of PVC pipe with caps top and bottom, and even a bucket strapped to the stern rail with hose clamps. A little ingenuity and a few dollars should get the gas bottle up and aft where it belongs.

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