After two days going to windward on the same tack, returning from Svalbard (Spitsbergen) to Norway, our bilge gas alarm went off. We searched everywhere for the source to no avail until I opened the gas bottle locker to a very strong smell of propane.
Using soap bubbles I traced the source to a tiny leak through the bottle change switch on the regulator. We changed to our spare regulator. A few weeks later the new one leaked in the same place.
I can hear you screaming “But the gas bottle locker should be airtight and drain overboard”; you’re right and ours does—normally. However, the drain was underwater for the two days we were on starboard tack (another very good reason not to go to windward!), preventing the leaked gas from draining. The gas built up in the locker and leaked into the boat through the hole near the top of the locker that allows the hose into the boat, despite using a supposedly vapor tight fitting made by Trident and designed for that purpose.
I wrote to West Marine and Trident regarding the leak in the regulator and got the classic “You are the only ones to have that problem” response. But two units…come on! Because of the serious nature of this problem, there should have been an investigation and, as far as we know, there wasn’t. (They did replace the first defective unit for free.)
We have switched to a single bottle regulator since we believe that the switch in the two-stage regulator is a weak spot. It is a real pain to change over bottles every time we run out—which invariably happens in the middle of a dinner party or when going to windward—but it’s better than ‘kaboom’.
- Several small things, taken together, can kill you.
- It would be a lot better to drain our gas bottle locker out through the stern.
Unfortunately, that’s not practical on our boat due to the position of the locker.
- It is a good idea to have a vapor detector sensor in the gas bottle locker to warn of a leak.
We do now. I suspect that the regulator had been leaking slowly for months or even years, we just never knew because it was draining out of the locker.
- A gas detector in the bilge can save your life.
Any boat with propane should have one installed and tested regularly. (We test ours by giving the sensor a sniff from a small gas lighter.)
- Vapor tight fittings probably aren’t if really put to the test by a lot of gas over a long period.