Q&A: Installing A Propane System

Question: I am presently rebuilding the propane system on my 36′ sailboat. The 20lb tank, regulator and shutoff valve are located in a sealed box (vented overboard) inside the starboard cockpit locker. Some suppliers recommend that a high pressure solenoid shutoff be installed on the high pressure side of the regulator, i.e. between the tank and the regulator. Others recommend that a low pressure solenoid be installed on the outlet of the regulator, i.e. between the regulator and the discharge hose. Which is the correct way and why? Or can it be done either way? I only want to do this job once so want to do it right the first time!

Answer: I’m not an expert in propane systems. What I can tell you is:

  1. I have never seen a solenoid on the high pressure side. This does not make it wrong, it just means that I have no experience of it. My boats have always had the solenoid on the low side of the regulator.
  2. Whichever side it is on, however, you need to have one in the locker.
  3. I would avoid two bottle regulators.

You may wish to get hold of a West Marine catalogue; they have a section on how to hook up a gas system.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

3 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Sep 18, 2011, 4:42 am

    A heads up, particularly with respect to propane/butane system design. Since this site appeals to people on both sides of the pond (and beyond) the regs for EU systems and US systems are quite different and largely not compatible. So are the practices. For ex., I believe many EU boat’s gas systems are designed with the expectation that the gas will be turned off at the tank after usage. In the US gas is turned off remotely by a solenoid. There are numerous other differences, equally substantial.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Sep 19, 2011, 3:48 pm

      Hi Dick,

      A very good point. All gas systems should be installed to comply with a recognized specification and those specifications should not be mixed and matched.

      Having said that, I think the EU makes a mistake in not encouraging a solenoid shut off with a switch near the stove. After all, if you make it easy people will actually do it. On the other hand, how many crews actually go out to the gas locker and turn off a valve by hand after each use? I would guess very few.

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 20, 2011, 4:17 am

    John, Agreed. There are at least 2-3 elements of the EU design regs that I had a problem with; the solenoid shut-off being the most important for the reason you suggested. One element I am unable to assess is that all the hoses (for gas) have expiry dates (5 yrs) and the locker to stove run is solid copper piping. There seems to be much less use of sniffers, fume detectors, in the EU as well as the solenoid. An EU surveyor I know thought the regs designed by land based gas people who do the pressure testing of systems that is also much more common here, especially in homes.

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