But before we get into this I should explain that Phyllis and I love food, cook a lot, and push our stove hard, probably much harder than most liveaboards and certainly many times harder than non-liveaboards. The point being that some of the problems we have had will simply not be an issue for many of you who cook less on your boats.
Having said that, we have had two serious safety related issues with this stove that will be of interest to all, so even if you don’t set off the smoke detector every time you cook like I do, you may wish to read on.
- Before even starting the installation, we discovered that the mounting brackets supplied with the stove were way too flimsy to properly retain this heavy and potentially lethal missile on an offshore boat in a bad knock down or inversion and so we had to have custom brackets made at substantial cost. See this post for the details.
- This one is really scary: Right from the start our bilge gas alarm would go off any time we roasted something for 2-3 hours. We tried everything to find the problem; I can’t tell you how often I went over the whole stove and installation with soap bubbles without results. First we assumed that the combustion problem, detailed below under “Other Issues”, was the culprit, but after fixing that we still had periodic alarms. Finally we got a commercial gas technician to go over the stove with a combustible gas sniffer. In five minutes he had it: The valve that controls the oven and grill was defective in such a way that any time the oven was on a tiny, but still dangerous, amount of gas was also being fed to the grill burner. No amount of amateur sleuthing with soap bubbles would ever have found it. Since the problem started right after installation we can only assume that the oven was shipped from the factory in this condition. A replacement valve solved this problem, although the installation was by no means trivial.
- The oven thermostat was set so that the low heat setting, invoked when the oven reached the set temperature, resulted in incomplete combustion, which sooted up the safety thermocouple and the electric spark igniters. The manual gives no help here, but a call to Force10 diagnosed the problem and we solved it by adjusting a small screw on the right side of the thermostat.
- The electric igniter did not light the oven quickly enough, which resulted in escaping gas. I fixed this by adjusting the position of the igniter in relation to burner, but it should have been properly adjusted when shipped from the factory.
- Nine months after we installed the stove all three of the stove top burner igniter actuation switches failed. Force10 replaced them on warranty and the installation is easy but this is still disturbing, particularly since six months after the initial replacement, two of the switches are getting flaky again. We are resigned to replacing them regularly—not great on a $1300 stove.
Lessons Learned and Conclusions
- Even when you buy the best and most expensive marine gear available (we have done this twice with stoves) you can’t be assured that it will work that well, or even be safe, without substantial effort—sad but true.
- Any new propane appliance on a boat should be checked over by a trained gas technician, using a hand held sniffer, before it goes into service. Soap bubbles are simply not good enough. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done since most commercial gas technicians have exactly zero interest in crawling around on a boat looking for gas leaks. We found a great guy in Beaufort, North Carolina, but he was an exception.
- All of this was way more work for us than seems reasonable after buying a $1300.00 stove, but it was ever so with marine gear.
- During the trouble shooting process, Force10 told us to replace the regulator every 5-7 years. Ours was 11 years old, and although replacing the regulator did not solve any of the problems we were having, it did make the stove burn hotter. A good recommendation that we have added to our preventative maintenance list.
- We have said this before, but it bears repeating: Any boat with propane appliances must have a bilge gas alarm fitted and that alarm must be tested regularly.
We were advised by Brad Clark, President of Force10, through the trouble shooting process. Brad, once he got past the inevitable manufacturer positions of “all your problems are due to poor installation” and “you are the first person to ever have this problem”, was knowledgeable and helpful. All the parts required, with the exception of the custom brackets, were provided for free and Force10 even paid the shipping—good service.
We really hope that Force10 will not circle the wagons in response to our criticisms, but rather use them to improve what is in many respects already a fine product. If nothing else, the brackets are an area that needs attention, particularly since Practical Sailor Magazine came to exactly the same conclusion about the inadequacy of the current bracket as we did.