Propane or Alcohol Stove? - Page 3 - SailNet Community
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post #21 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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Originally Posted by Jeff_H
. . . "The story about the burning boat really surprises me. It would take a lot of alcohol to that much damage. More than would normally be present in a normal pressurized stove tank." . . ."so the simple expedient of throwing a couple glasses of water in the bilge should have put the fire out, that is unless other combustible materials were present. Most of the P-33's originally had gasoline engines so he is a really lucky man to still be here."
His P33 had a new Yanmar diesel and aside from some 1st & 2nd degree burns, he survived to tell the story - many times I might add, since he's my slipmate. I can't answer for Sdog's floating alcohol theory, but as was described in my story, several combustables were involved in the fire as well as ample time for the alcohol to become absorbed in the galley cabinetry before settling in the bilge. I don't know the size of the tank, but I would suspect it held at least a qt, enough to cause significant damage to a boat's cabins.

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post #22 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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Just for the record, I was not doubting the veracity of your story. I was just surprised by the extent of the damage. Back in the pressure alcohol days, I had a couple alcohol fires and they were easily extinguished so was more than a little surprised to hear the extent of the damage. Most of the older pressure alcohol stoves held much less than a quart, with my old Homestrand holding just about a pint. Exept for the really old ones, by the 1970's alcohol stoves had a catch pan that held nearly as much as the tank. Because alcohol evaporates so quickly even soaking into the fabrics and down into the bilge like that is a little surprising. I don't doubt the story at all, but is quite different than my experiences. Given the gents state of sobriety, I almost wonder whether he didn't leave the alcohol container open and spill it's contents as well.

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post #23 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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He and his crew were inebriated, to say the least. They set a very bad example that day and I am sure he has constrant remorse over the event. What surprises me the most is he regularly crews on Courageous, US28, which just won the 12 meter regatta last month. I always respected his judgement until that bout with stupidity.

I am sure modern alcohol stoves are very safe, giving proper respect and maintenance by the users - typical for all flamable fuels, liquid or gaseous.

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post #24 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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Originally Posted by Jeff_H
Who ever it was that said that Alcohol can float on the water clearly does not know a thing about alcohol. Alcohol readily mixes with water and adding water immediately extinguishes it. Geez, I hate seeing misinformation on alcohol.
Float was the wrong word to use. The issue was brought up in a case study in BoatUS's book Seaworthy, where an owner had tried to put out an alcohol stove by pouring water on the flames, and the water only diluted the alcohol, but not sufficiently to put it out.

Adding water does not immediately extinguish alcohol fires, if not enough water is used. The water then carried the still burning alcohol down and behind the stove and the hull caught on fire from the burning alcohol. The story is on page 89 of the book. Alcohol will generally still burn until it is below 40% or so by volume. Most alcohols, including ethanol burn with little color to the flames.

Denatured alcohol, which is probably what you use, is mostly ethanol with a bit of methanol mixed into it. The MSDS clearly states the following for extinguishing alcohol fires.

Extinguishing Media: Use water spray, CO2, alcohol-type or universal-type foams, or
dry chemical. Water may be ineffective.

Please note that it clearly states that WATER MAY BE INEFFECTIVE.

That said...non-pressurized stoves, like the Origo, the OP is asking about, are far safer than the older pressurized stoves. However, alcohol does present its share of dangers, as do any flammable liquids on a boat. I do have a few solvents on-board, but they are stored in a water-tight/air-tight container and I don't open the container unless I've brought it up to the cockpit or on deck as a general rule.

One point about the dangers of alcohol stoves had more to do with their unfamilar practices, rather than the dangers of the fuel itself. Lighting a propane or butane stove is something that is probably fairly familiar for most sailors, especially if they have a gas stove or barbeque grill at home. Lighting an alcohol stove is not.


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Last edited by sailingdog; 08-23-2006 at 03:46 PM.
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post #25 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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I Got A Good Deal On My Boat Because Of Alcohol. The Previous Owners "friend" Was Using A Single Burner Origo And Caught Herself And The Boat Interior On Fire. Witnesses Said She Saw The Headliner On Fire And Didn't Realize That She Was Also On Fire. She Jumped Overboard And Bystanders Pulled Her Out And Extinguished The Fire. The Story Is That There Was More Alcohol In Her Than In The Stove. I Have Converted To Propane With Sniffers And Properly Vented Tanks, But Am Still Very, Very Careful. Stoves And Firearms Don't Mix Well Together.
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post #26 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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volatile inventory

Originally Posted by Jeff_H
...Speaking of things that actually do go boom in the night, how many of you carry small quantities of mineral spirits or other paint thinners in their cabin's. Just a thought.

We banished such things from the cabin from the beginning, except for the lamp oil in the hanging Weems & Plath brass lantern that we lifted from our first boat several years ago. To refill the oil is brought from home and then returned.

When I was growing up we had a nasty basement fire when lawn mower parts were being cleaned with gasoline in a coffee can on the workbench. When the hot water was turned on upstairs the fumes flashed back from the instant hot water gas furnace ten feet away and pretty soon half of the basement was on fire. Even the hamsters and guinea pigs had to be evacuated, but the house was saved. I lost a dozen model rocket parachutes hanging 30 feet away from the flames. That left quite an impression on me with respect to volatiles.

Maybe the proof of the Tequilla in the cabin liquor cabinet is high enough to be flamable but that needs to be aboard to maintain crew morale

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post #27 of 62 Old 08-23-2006
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Alcohol unsafe? Maybe not...

On our ODay 28 we used a pressurized alcohol stove with no ill effects. The gentleman who surveyed the boat gave me some extremely good instructions on how to, and how not to, prime the burners, but the one I liked best I haven't had an opportunity to try. That consists of keeping some alcohol in a squeeze bottle and preheating the buners that way. Controlability is excellent, and it minimizes the chance to over-flood the burners during the pre-heat process. As we used to say in the submarine construction business, "Nothing is sailor-proof". I also bought my alcohol from hardware stores with no problems, and used the air compressor on my battery eliminator to pump up the tank, because the hand pump was a physical pain.
Bill Coxe, O28 Very available)/O40, New London, CT
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post #28 of 62 Old 09-04-2007
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Cool alcohol stove

ok alcohol stoves are good just show your wifes, how to read the instructions and everything will be allwright, everybody knows there slow its alcohol remember school with the alcohol torch in lab slow boiling.
go by the intruction steps
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post #29 of 62 Old 09-06-2007
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I too owned a boat with propane and was sure I wanted it because of all the 'alcohol is slow, flames hard to see' expressions I heard. I almost went with cng because it seemed so safe. One person on sailnet told me that she had used alcohol for many years and loved it. So when we launched our good old boat with a new Origo I figured I'd 'just give it a shot'. It works great. I heat up a pot of coffee in five minutes! It cooks super. [My grandchildren will vouch that our pasta dinner was terrific last week] I no longer panic at the thought of propane being 'all the way off' and don't have to run fuel lines with devices etc. Its really not difficult to see the flames either. Alcohol is simple. While all opinions are useful, if you give the alcohol a chance I am sure you will be impressed.

My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.
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Last edited by Joesaila; 09-06-2007 at 08:17 AM. Reason: punctuation correction
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post #30 of 62 Old 09-06-2007
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The flame on an alcohol stove is invisible so burning yourself is more likely. The flame is no where near as hot. I remember as a child, my mother setting fire to the curtains with an alcohol stove on a small cabin cruiser - she did't know that the stove was lit.
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