Refilling Propane Tanks - SailNet Community
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Refilling Propane Tanks

The tough lifethe author's family takes a break from the day-to-day duties on board Imani in Malaysia.
As we laze about the Sebana Cove Marina Resort, Imani is tied to a dock for the first time in almost two years. Located just off the Singapore Strait, up the Santi River in Malaysia, we find ourselves sucking in all the knowledge of the international group of cruisers who have pulled in to relax, do boat work, and day-trip by local ferry into Singapore. The resort is lovely with acres of green rolling hills, wild monkeys, boars, an 18-hole golf course, and two swimming pools with wonderfully hot showers—yet we are isolated. The closest village is Sg. Rengit, 15 minutes away by car, and it is a small village at that. Consequently, we find that we must be very resourceful while we're docked here.

Our neighbors on the S/V On Verra, Daniel and Alicia, needed to refill their propane tanks while here, yet all that is available from Sg. Rengit is full propane bottles with Malaysian fittings. The gas refilling plant is a 150-kilometer car ride away in Johor Bahru, so a bottle-to-bottle transfer is the most reasonably convenient way to refill the tanks when you're in this part of the world. This is a maneuver that I had heard about before leaving on this cruise, but one I have always been leery to attempt because of the combustible nature of the process. However, after watching Daniel and Alicia learn the ropes from Alan on S/V Mendocino Queen, I now feel prepared to tackle the chore when our bottles go empty.

The author started the refilling process by adding a fitting without a regulator to her tank.
First of all, you need a fitting without a regulator that fits the local bottle and five to six feet of see-through, one-quarter-inch, reinforced hose and hose clamps. (Make sure your hose is not worn and sufficiently rated for the pressure that will be placed upon it.) These items are all available from the local hardware store. From the US, you need a simple brass fitting without a regulator. Once the fittings are attached to each end of the reinforced tube with hose clamps, you are ready to transfer.

In a well-ventilated area, place the full local tank above the empty one so that gravity will ensure the liquid gas transfer. The more vertical distance there is between the two tanks the better and faster the transfer will be. Five to six feet of distance between tanks make for very efficient filling within two hours. You can transfer faster still by putting the empty tank in a vat of ice while the full tank is allowed to be in the full sun. Open the local tank and watch the liquid gas go through the tube into your open, empty tank. Sufficiently reinforced see-through hose is great for keeping track of how well the liquid gas is moving into your tank. When you see the gas moving more slowly, use a screwdriver to vent air out of the empty tank for a few seconds, so the gas can come in and take its place. You are effectively burping your propane tank, so that the feeding may continue.

"When you see the gas moving more slowly, use a screwdriver to vent air out of the empty tank. You are effectively burping your propane tank, so that the feeding may continue."
When your tank is full, you will see liquid gas exit instead of air when you vent your tank. Another way to ascertain if the tank is full is to weigh your tank on a scale when full and note its weight as a reference for the next filling. We do not carry a bathroom scale and have not found any other yacht in the marina carrying such a device. So, we used the venting-observation method and it worked well.

Of course safety is the primary concern when fiddling with propane. The tank transfer I witnessed was performed outside on the dock without any open flames, lit cigarettes, or spark sources about. And it all went very smoothly. I am aware that some boating folks would never live with propane tanks on board due to the possible danger associated with their use. Yet, our experience of using propane for cooking over the last eight years has been problem-free and very convenient. Priming an alcohol stove takes time and adds considerably to the overall time spent in a hot galley. In this part of the world it is already because we sit just above the equator. Also I have found that cooking with propane is very much like cooking with natural gas in a house, with easy baking and flame adjustments at the burners, which is perfect for those chefs making the transition from landlubber to floating cook.

The greater the height difference between the two tanks, the faster the delivery.
We keep our propane tanks outside in a vapor-tight outer locker that vents directly overboard. Whenever we change bottles—an empty for a full—we wipe a soapy sponge over the fitting area in search of any leaks, which would make the suds bubble and grow. Another item that will increase the safety of using propane is the installation of a solenoid -controlled valve. A solenoid is an electrically controlled valve that allows you to shut off the gas supply from a remote location. The switch is usually installed close to the galley and has a red light to let you know when the propane solenoid is on. Flip the switch off and the valve closes to shut off the gas. For safety, solenoids close in the event of a power failure. On Imani, we do not have a solenoid-controlled valve system; yet we have met many boats that do employ such a system and are happy with their choice.

We now replace our propane tanks more often than when we were tied to a dock back in Sausalito, which is due to the harsh conditions that a boat faces when it is racking up the distance that we have in the past two years—more than 15,000 nautical miles. We have found that considerable rust and deterioration happens to our tanks much faster out here. But if that seems like trouble, it's well worth it. Each time we pull out another freshly baked pizza off our terracotta tiles from our trusty propane oven, we are eternally grateful to the propane gods.

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