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Hi,
I'm looking at buying an early 1980's catalina 30. I found two, one has a pressurized alcohol stove, one has propane. Which is a better fuel for the stove/oven? Which is safer? Cheaper to refill? Better heat output? Easier to use?
I wouldn't be cooking too often... maybe a small meal every other weekend, maybe using the oven once or twice a summer.
Thanks!
 

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Propane, properly installed is more efficient and safer. It is also cheaper to fuel, has better heat output and is far easier to use.

Alcohol has a much lower heating value as a fuel and pressurized alcohol stoves are often a serious fire danger, as reported by Boat US in their book Seaworthy.
 

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My boat has a pressurized alcohol stove. I was not thrilled about it when I bought the boat because they have a bad rap. The previous owners had converted from Propane to Alcohol. I've heard that with Alcohol, you can't see the flame. This is only true if the flames are in bright sunlight. If the flames from your stove are in direct sunlight, I think the battle is probably lost already! Besides, the flames from the burning fiberglass should be highly visible by then:D I can get fuel at any hardware store. It may be a little slower to heat than Propane, but I am very happy with the Alcohol stove and oven. I don't think it should be a deal breaker, there are bigger issues when buying a boat. I would certainly try it for a while before replacing it. I think Alcohol is fine.
 

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L124C-

Don't know where you learned chemistry, but alcohol vapors are generally denser than air.

Also, water in insufficient quantity can spread alcohol fires instead of putting them out... which is one reason alcohol stoves caused some many boat fires... the person would pour water on the fire and the burning alcohol would get washed down into areas of the boat where it wasn't readily visible. By the time they realized their mistake, it was usually way too late. Water is NOT A RECOMMENDED EXTINGUISHING MEDIA FOR ALCOHOL FIRES.

Might want to learn a bit more about alcohol and alcohol fires before opening your mouth. Read the MSDS for denatured alcohol.

Let me quote the relevant section for you:

EXTINGUISHING MEDIA:
Alcohol foam, CO2 or dry chemical.

FIREFIGHTING PROCEDURES:
Wear self-contained breathing apparatus approved by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Use water to cool neighboring containers.[

SPECIAL FIRE AND EXPLOSION HAZARDS:
Flammable. Dangerous fire risk. Toxic by ingestion and inhalation. Vapors are heavier than air and will travel along ground to ignition source.
Finally, alcohol vapors are harder to detect than propane, which is spiked with mercaptan to make it very noticeable due to the odor of the mercaptan.
 

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I installed a propane stove in my boat. This thing burns HOT. I have to be really careful not to burn whatever I'm cooking. Way, way hotter than my gas stove at home.

On the flip side, my friend's alcohol stove takes 20 minutes to boil a small pan of water.
 

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Is there anyway we could make a sticky with proper storage of propane on a boat? At this point, I'm thinking the only safe place for me would be strapping them into the bottom of the cockpit. My boat is not set up for "fuel tanks" and there's no way I'm glassing one in and putting another hole for a vent. I'm assuming that the safest way is to obviously cook outside, store the stove inside with the tank/bottle closed off and in the cockpit? Is there a better way? I'm very paranoid about blowing up my boat.
 

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Never store propane inside your cockpit. Propane is heavier than air and WILL seep into the cabin. Mounting the tank on the aft rail would be much better EXCEPT that the tanks really don't like seawater and will corrode to junk unless you have one of the fancy new glass wrapped composite tanks.
 

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If your search these threads you'll find a lot of discussion on this issue - including pics of some installations on boats that have no "proper" propane locker...

Having lived with a pressurized alcohol stove for 12 years for all the "right" reasons, our latest boat has propane and honestly we'd never go back.
 

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The one re objection I have with alcohol systems is the after smell I can tell within ten feet of someone if they have propane or not, as the alcohol seems to leave as smell on anyone who uses it or is around it.
 

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Never store propane inside your cockpit. Propane is heavier than air and WILL seep into the cabin. Mounting the tank on the aft rail would be much better EXCEPT that the tanks really don't like seawater and will corrode to junk unless you have one of the fancy new glass wrapped composite tanks.
Exactly my point. I'm not seeing an easy way to resolve this. I'll search the forums, but it looks like anchoring and starting a campfire on shore is a better option at this point.
 

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So finding an island for said campfire is a better solution? What if there aren't any? The corrosion of the aluminum tanks takes time (especially if they're not dangling in deep blue seawater). Up til now, the eventual loss of a tank from corrosion has been an acceptable issue, since there has been no other option for propane tanks (remember that service life for these tanks requires pressure testing every 5 years anyway). The new glass tanks remove the corrosion constraint, and they are less costly than aluminum. I don't really see why a leaky tank is where the focus is. I'd be more concerned with the inboard (and usually hidden) lines between the tank and stove, than the tank itself.
 

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The regulars on this board who love their propane cooking systems have undoubtedly done A LOT of research with propane storage, installation and leakage alarms and installed their system accordingly. It is very possible and great, I'm sure, but not easy or something you should do casually.

If you are looking for a simple, easy and relatively safe cooking set-up I'd scrap both the propane and pressurized alcohol systems and go for UN-pressurized alcohol. It is very easy to cook with, boils water just about as fast as pressurized alcohol and there is no installation required beyond a safe place for the cooktop.
 

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Propane is much safer. I know someone who is very badly scarred as a result of an accident with an alcohol stove.
 

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I stand corrected!

L124C-

"Don't know where you learned chemistry, but alcohol vapors are generally denser than air. ""

I leaned chemistry at the same school where you learned diplomacy Saildog...I DID'NT. I stand corrected and have edited my post to reflect my mistake. I guess what I meant to say was that alcohol vapors dissipate faster than Propane, which I assume is why venting is not required. I'm sure you will correct me if I'm wrong. For example, If I prime the wick on my stove, and don't light it within about a minute, the fuel will have dissipated, won't light, and I will need to prime it again.

"Also, water in insufficient quantity can spread alcohol fires instead of putting them out... which is one reason alcohol stoves caused some many boat fires... the person would pour water on the fire and the burning alcohol would get washed down into areas of the boat where it wasn't readily visible. By the time they realized their mistake, it was usually way too late. Water is NOT A RECOMMENDED EXTINGUISHING MEDIA FOR ALCOHOL FIRES."

Actually, if you look at the MSDS, it does list water spray for fighting large alcohol fires, as well as for cooling containers in the area of the fire. I wonder if the key word is spray, as to minimize the medium to allow the alcohol to spread.

"Might want to learn a bit more about alcohol and alcohol fires before opening your mouth. Read the MSDS for denatured alcohol.

Let me quote the relevant section for you:



Finally, alcohol vapors are harder to detect than propane, which is spiked with mercaptan to make it very noticeable due to the odor of the mercaptan."

I don't know that alcohol needs to be "spiked" with anything. If I've got a can of alcohol open, it's fairly obvious to my nose.

If you look at Boat US's current position on alcohol stoves, they note that alcohol stove accidents have gone down substantially. They are not sure why this is, but think it may be attributed to better stoves. I was surprised to see that they attribute only 1% of all boat fires to stoves. The stove on my boat is surrounded by metal, including a pan that would catch a substantial amount of water/fuel if I did use water to douse a fire.

The last thing I would want to do is spread false information on this important subject. So, I've corrected my misstatement, learned some things, and maybe you have too Saildog. After all, isn't that the purpose of these forums?
[/QUOTE
 

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L124C-

When they're talking spray, they're talking industrial strength spray from firehoses... not using a pan or bucket full of water—which is pretty much my point. Most boats I know of won't have a proper source of heavy water spray to extinguish with... most would try and use a bucket of water, and that can be a big mistake.

The reason they specifically mention spray is probably two-fold, the most important being that spray will absorb a lot of the heat as the fire tries to vaporize it, dropping the temperature of the fire quite rapidly and helping prevent additional materials from catching fire, and it also dilutes the alcohol, and due to the volume of the spray, does it rather rapidly by increasing the proportion of water throughout all of the spilled alcohol in a way using a bucket or pan full of water can not.

Just remember most hard liquor will burn quite well...and a lot of hard liquor is only 40% alcohol by volume... so you need a lot of water to dilute alcohol to the point where it won't sustain a flame.


Also, how well do you smell the alcohol if it has spilled and made its way down into the bilge... where it will evaporate off and possibly leave an explosive atmosphere? If it isn't right after the spill, you may not detect the odor of alcohol sitting in the bilge.

BoatUS's position on alcohol stoves is that pressurized ones are far more dangerous than the Origo-style non-pressurized ones. A pressurized alcohol stove can leak fuel in many places, and the leaks aren't always visible. A non-pressurized stove is safe as long as you're careful to wipe up the spills, the tins don't leak, and you wait until the tins are fully cooled before refueling them. The number of alcohol stove related fires has dropped with the disappearance of pressurized alcohol stoves as a common appliance on a boat.

Most people underestimate the risks posed by alcohol as a fuel. AFAICT, you haven't corrected the post I was responding too, which I've quoted here.

My boat has a pressurized alcohol stove. I was not thrilled about it when I bought the boat because they have a bad rap. The previous owners had converted from Propane to Alcohol. I've heard that with Alcohol, you can't see the flame. This is only true if the flames are in bright sunlight. If the flames from your stove are in direct sunlight, I think the battle is probably lost already! Besides, the flames from the burning fiberglass should be highly visible by then:D The good news is that if a alcohol fire gets out of control, you can put it out with water, and the vapors are lighter than air and therefore evaporate Quickly (unlike Propane). I can get fuel at any hardware store. It may be a little slower to heat than Propane, but I am very happy with the Alcohol stove and oven. I don't think it should be a deal breaker, there are bigger issues when buying a boat. I would certainly try it for a while before replacing it. I think Alcohol is fine.
 

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Propane kinda scares me on a sailboat, if there is a leak it going to sink down instead of venting up and out. I have a propane stove on my boat, but haven't ever used it, I have been useing a one burner non-presurized alcohol stove, or my little propane bbq thats out side on a rail. Well I guess I will just keep reading along in here and mybe someone will enlighten me on this. And yes I know I could be wrong about it all, guess I'm just old school.
 

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The regulars on this board who love their propane cooking systems have undoubtedly done A LOT of research with propane storage, installation and leakage alarms and installed their system accordingly. It is very possible and great, I'm sure, but not easy or something you should do casually.
I wouldn't feel comfortable with propane w/o a properly-designed, dedicated propane locker. IIUC: "Properly-designed" includes venting at the bottom to mitigate against a propane leak in the locker, which means it has to be entirely above the waterline. (Have a friend that had their boat retrofitted with a propane locker by having a stern lazarette converted. Unfortunately, in a following sea...) We have a place on the starboard side of the boat where we could conceivably have such a thing done, and the locker would end-up right next to and behind the galley. But we haven't the money for that now and, TBH, probably never will have. So...

If you are looking for a simple, easy and relatively safe cooking set-up I'd scrap both the propane and pressurized alcohol systems and go for UN-pressurized alcohol.
That's the way we'll go.

It is very easy to cook with, boils water just about as fast as pressurized alcohol ...
Most comments I've read say faster.

As per an earlier comment: I would not predicate my purchase based on the stove included, unless all else was equal. (Which is unlikely in the extreme.) I would make damn certain my surveyor really understood propane installations, what was required for them on a boat, and inspected the thing in excruciating detail. If you've got two boats of about the same age and the same make and model, odds are good the propane installation was a retrofit.

Jim
 

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I have aways found a chuckle in the debate over the non-pressurized alcohol stoves are slow. Maybe it does take 5 mins. longer to make a pot of coffee.

What I find funny is that many of us dream about crossing Oceans at 5 and 6 knots, But we want our meals at miro-wave speed, We got the time as sailors.
 
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