A Propane Tank Gotcha

JHH5II-10014-EditThis is a small FYI post about a big pain in the butt!

The gotcha started innocently enough with me blithely loading our propane tanks into the back of the car and driving to our local Canadian Tire to get them filled—as I had done with no problems in the past—prior to our heading south last fall (2010). However, this time the Propane Guy (PG) said, “I can’t fill them. They are more than 10 years old.” Either this was a new rule since we had last had them filled in Canada (it has been in place in Europe for a while) or the PGs who filled them before didn’t check. Whatever.

Anyway, this PG suggested we get them recertified. Well, that might work in theory but I couldn’t find anyone to actually do it. So we had to order 3 new tanks to replace 3 perfectly good ones. The price of bureaucracy!

Our local chandlery in Halifax, Nova Scotia ordered the tanks and I once again loaded them into the car and drove to Canadian Tire. This time the PG filled them, no problem.

JHH5II-10014-Edit-2After they were filled, I got the bright idea that I should know the date stamp location for future reference. Imagine my surprise when I found that the tanks were dated 2005, 2006 and 2008. Nuts! Two of them were already halfway through their 10-year lifespan. (We eventually got half our money back on the two aged tanks from our local chandlery, but I had to push them…hard.)

So there are two morals to this story:

  1. If you are planning to travel in Canada or Europe, make sure your propane tanks are less than 10 years old, or you will be joining the raw food movement whether you want to or not.
  2. Don’t assume that a new tank is necessarily a young tank.

P.S. We just ordered a fourth tank for our upcoming voyage to Greenland and West Marine sent us a tank dated 2007. However, I’m a beaten woman. I just don’t have it in me to go through another fight to get my money back.

Update August 2013: Our friend Hans tells us that you can now get aluminium tanks recertified here in Nova Scotia at Tony Huntley Propane, Lower Branch (Bridgewater).  W- 543-8793 , cell- 521-6057.

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Chris March 27, 2011, 10:34 am

    Phyllis, don’t feel too badly about the old tanks, you likely would not have been able to get them recertified in any case. They may have (likely would) have met the pressure test requirements, but at their age it is unlikely they would have an approved Over-filling Prevention Device (required as of April 1 2002 in US, 2007 in Canada). OPDs have saved lives both during filling and are less like to burst when exposed to a fire.

    As to European approval on composites, they were invented in Sweden in the early ’90s and Composite Scandinavia builds about 200,000 a year. They are approved in Europe and by the ISO.

    Reply
  • Matt Marsh March 27, 2011, 10:45 am

    Re-certifying older cylinders shouldn’t be that hard. 100 lb cylinders from the early ’90s or even the late ’80s are still in common circulation.

    Anything from 4 to 40 lb, though, is a different story. Since 1998 or so, overflow protection valves have been required on these, just in case the gas jockey isn’t watching the filling rig and forgets to leave a bit of space for the gas to expand. If your old cylinders didn’t have OPDs, no-one could have legally refilled them in Canada or the US. (The OPD can be installed as a retrofit, but will probably cost more than a new tank.)

    For future reference, here’s the list of technicians registered to re-qualify propane tanks:
    http://wwwapps.tc.gc.ca/saf-sec-sur/3/fdr-rici/cylinder/requalifier.aspx

    Reply
    • John March 27, 2011, 12:08 pm

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the link. We did not find that resource. Maybe re-certification is easier than we thought. We will have to check well ahead of time when these tanks come up.

      That’s the great thing about this process, it’s not just about what we know, but the sum of what you guys know too, which is often a lot more.

      Reply
  • Chris March 27, 2011, 10:53 am

    Matt’s right on the OPD cost to retrofit (at least in Eastern US). When I checked it was going to be about 20% more.

    Reply
  • John March 27, 2011, 11:23 am

    Hi Chris and Matt,

    Great information, thanks.

    Actually, our old tanks, bought in 2000 for our last cruise to Europe, had OPDs. They were just condemned because they were over ten years old.

    To us the key issue here is that the manufacturer/distributor/dealers are selling long dated tanks as new and charging full price for them. We have four tanks. We could live with the about $1000 cost of replacing them every 10 years. But every five to six years is unreasonable.

    We would suggest that anyone buying tanks, check the date before putting their money down and insist on a discount if the stamped date is more than a year or so old.

    Reply
  • Chris March 27, 2011, 11:55 am

    Phyllis,
    Well, I’m a bit bum-fuzzled. On Bright Star we had tanks approaching 20 years old. I got them each recertified, twice, then the OPD requirement kicked in. The US DOT rules are 12 years + 5, +5 indefinitely with recertification. Some states differ, and I can’t say about Canada or EU. I’m pretty sure I paid about $10 for a recert.

    I think your suggestion carries over to anything with a “stale date.”

    Reply
  • John March 27, 2011, 12:04 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Maybe it’s easier and cheaper to get tanks re-certified in the USA. We should look into that. Phyllis spent hours on the phone in Nova Scotia and got no where.

    Also, the people at Canadian Tire who fill the tanks had no idea how to get them certified.

    As you say, we should all check anything dated. Thing is that what part of the myriad of numbers on the tank represents the date is anything but obvious. Hopefully this post will help there.

    Reply
  • Chris March 27, 2011, 12:11 pm

    I would have thought Transport Canada would have had a list. I must admit I’ve not been in NS for five years. So I’m a bit stale (on that)…

    Reply
  • Phyllis March 27, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Thanks for all the good comments.

    Just to clarify: I didn’t write this post because I’m against propane tank certification. The two main reasons I wrote this post are:

    1. If you are planning to cruise in Europe or Canada, make sure that your tanks are not over 10 years old. It’s difficult enough to deal with this issue in home waters; add a foreign country and language, and the difficulties multiply!
    2. As John said, when you buy a “new” tank, make sure you are not being sold an “old” tank. Even if it’s only $10.00 to recertify a tank, finding a place to do it may not be that easy. And, of course, these things always come up in the last 10 minutes before leaving on a long cruise when tracking down a recertification station may be just one more in a very long list of last minute things to get done.

    Reply
    • Matt Marsh March 27, 2011, 12:46 pm

      Duly noted: When buying new tanks, insist that the seller have them re-qualified before taking delivery. It won’t be nearly as big a hassle for them as it is for you.

      Reply
  • Piotr Berlinski March 27, 2011, 4:45 pm

    Composite tanks are getting more and more popular in Europe. I think BP Gas is the leader and has quite interesting tank exchange programme (http://www.bpgaslight.com) – you can exchange empty tank with filled one across few countries in Europe.

    AFAIR similar gas tanks are available in Norway too in AGA.

    Peter

    Reply
  • Nick Kats March 28, 2011, 6:29 am

    Here in Ireland I use propane (here we call it ‘gas’, don’t ask) for home use. When a tank empties, I bring it in & I get a full & different propane tank. In other words the age of propane tanks is not my responsibility.
    I’ve seen these tanks on local sailboats.

    Reply
  • Ben March 28, 2011, 6:47 am

    As far as I know it has always been 10 years in Australia, but they have only recently started imposing it so rigorously, they mostly tend to check the date now and send you packing if it is out of date or rusty (I supose it’s fair enough, really). Good to get the heads up on the supposedly “new” cylinders…

    A question for you all non-Aussies: What standards are yours approved to? Ours are AS 2469, and I am not sure if this would be acceptable in Europe or US/Canada…I will ask the local servo what certification he will accept, or if he even looks at certification, but it would be interesting to hear what your LPG suppliers say regarding my AS 2469 cylinder.

    Also our tanks have rubber O ring seals, but I noticed the tanks in Argentina were metal/metal fittings that were really hard to get to stop leaking (at least on the dodgy exchange cylinders we used). I had to soap test them every time. What type of connectors do the US, Canadian, and European tanks use and how much of a problem is filling them up overseas, i.e. US to Europe?

    Given the fact that it often costs around $30-40 US to fill up a 9 kg bottle over here (you may get it much cheaper if you hunt around), it almost makes it worth thinking about kero again…But not sure I could put up with all the black pots, stripping burners and preheating again (7 years was a few years to many)…

    Reply
    • Chris March 28, 2011, 10:00 am

      Ben,
      The US standard for propane cylinders (not tanks) is DOT4*240 or 260 the asterisk is a placeholder for a letter (i.e., E=welded aluminum). The letters are parallel to those in US 49CFR178 which is essentially a legal expression of US National Fire Protection Association rules. NFPA functions somewhat like the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
      The ISO certification does not appear to be of interest.

      I say “appears” because differences in valving from country to country seem to lead suppliers to go for national certifications vs international ones.

      What I find interesting about this dialog is in 37 years of using propane/LPG, I can’t remember any filler ever checking the cylinder age.

      Reply
    • Phyllis March 28, 2011, 11:54 am

      We have an entire section of the Norwegian Cruising Guide (which we publish) devoted to the topic of getting North American/UK propane cylinders filled in Norway. Bottom line, it’s almost impossible due to different certification standards and to different valve types. In fact, the standards are different between Sweden and Norway. So the whole issue of propane tanks for international cruisers is a real minefield.

      Reply
  • Sid March 28, 2011, 8:55 am

    I think the re-certification problem arises when dealing with a PG who deals in propane as an ancillary business, i.e. simply filling tanks, rather than specializing in propane and related gas equipment. After returning from 8 years in Europe, our old aluminum tank had to be re-certified as well as having an OPD fitted. I guess I never realized how lucky we were to have it done quickly and cheaply by a gas outfit in, of all places, Ft. Pierce, Florida, a town with very limited yachting facilities.
    It sound like your Canadian Tire is similar to U-Haul stores in the U.S., happy to fill tanks but not capable of other propane services.

    Reply
    • Phyllis March 28, 2011, 11:50 am

      You are right about Canadian Tire being similar to U-Haul in that they just fill the tanks. Next time we’re in Nova Scotia and looking to fill the tanks, I’m going to look around for a company that specializes in propane services and see what that does for us! Thanks for the tip.

      Reply
      • Chris March 28, 2011, 12:05 pm

        Phyllis, I suspect you already checked out the RV support infrastructure, but another place to call is a business that uses LPG fueled forklifts to see who they might go to. Our experience in Halifax was people would not only tell us where, they’d take us there!

        That and Digby scallops, what more can one ask.

        Reply
  • Tom Hildebrandt March 28, 2011, 10:22 am

    Eight years ago, whilst in Australia, I purchased two new galvanized 9 kilo tanks and they are still going strong, no rust and in good condition. I have only once been asked about re-certification (Walvis Bay, Namibia; as I recall a five year rule and part of the issue was that the markings were not legible); ultimately they were filled but I had to enlist the aid of an “official” from the local yacht club to make it happen. I have been across Southeast Asia, around Africa and am now in the Caribbean during these eight years. Only once was I not able to get them filled, that was in Madagascar as the filling facility did not have the proper connections. So three other boats and I all bought a local tank, refundable type, made up fittings to fill our tanks from that one tank, refilling it as needed until everyone had fully charged new tanks. It took a while, several days, but it finally was finished. Most refills have cost around $22USD, some pushing $30USD, the cheapest was in Seychelles, less than $5USD.

    I have met several folks whose tanks were rejected as they were too rusty, and they all opted to buy new tanks as the cost of certification was well over half the price of a new tank. This type of story is pretty common as I have traveled, I have never heard of anyone getting a tank re-certified for under $100USD! Many folks, specifically here in the Caribbean, who have arrived from Europe, have more difficulty getting their tanks filled as there is a fitting compatibility problem, so quite a few are giving their old tanks away and buying new American style tanks.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when I get to the good old USA in July! Recert for $30 or 40? Need new valves? New tanks?

    What do these OPD valves look like? My current valves have a pressure relief screw on the side, is that what you are calling an OPD?

    Reply
  • Denis Bone March 28, 2011, 11:55 am

    General comment; Gas on boats is intrinsically dangerous, convert to diesel! I did years ago and rest much easier because of it!

    Reply
  • Brian April 3, 2011, 12:33 am

    The newer composite tanks are approved in Canada and the US. I live aboard in Victoria and have 2 of the 10lb composite tanks. One of the many retailers selling them is the Binnacle in Halifax Nova Scotia

    Reply
  • Hans Jakob Valderhaug April 3, 2011, 4:46 pm

    As pointed out above composite tanks have formal approval in large parts of the world. Details can be found at http://www.ragasco.com or http://www.hexagon.no.

    Reply
    • John April 4, 2011, 10:47 am

      Hi Hans,

      Thanks very much. We were definitely wrong in thinking that approval was limited. It seems that composite tanks are a great idea.

      I have removed our original incorrect statement from the post.

      One thing I would say is that in reading between the lines on the composite tank manufacturer sites, it does sound as if people may have had problems filling these tanks in remote places where the attendant is not familiar with them.

      Therefore, if we were cruising with these tanks I would download and print out the appropriate certification for each country I planned to visit.

      Reply
  • Brian Stannard January 3, 2014, 12:09 am

    Concerning composite tanks the ones made by the Lite Cylinder Company in the US have been recalled and nobody is supposed to refill them worldwide. The Rugosa tanks sold under the Trident name in North America are the only approved composite tanks available this side of the Atlantic as far as I know.

    I work at a chandler in Victoria B.C. (Trotac Marine) and when we received aluminum tanks with old manufacturing dates we returned them to the supplier.

    Reply
    • John January 3, 2014, 12:04 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the heads up. Good to hear that you look out for your customers in that way.

      Reply

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