The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Ten Ways to Make Propane Safer

The Force10 marine stove (cooker) in the galley of aluminum expedition sailboat Morgan's Cloud.

I think that most everyone will agree that propane on a boat is intrinsically dangerous because said gas is heavier than air—any that escapes can pool in the bilge waiting for a spark to blow us into the latter part of next week.

And there are safer alternative fuels, mostly liquids (diesel and paraffin/kerosene, as well as compressed natural gas CNG), but none offer the combination of easy availability and instant on-demand easily-adjustable heat that propane delivers.

So, for the food obsessed, like Phyllis and me, propane is really the only practical solution—it’s not for nothing that professional chefs tend to cook on gas.

(It’s an interesting aside that, in my experience, a mariner’s willingness to cook on liquid fuels, like kerosene, is inversely proportional to their interest in cooking and food. I’m not expressing any criticism here, just an observation, and I’m sure there are exceptions.)

Having said all that, there are a bunch of things on boats that are at least as dangerous as propane—the boom comes to mind. And so a lot of staying safe is recognizing risks and managing them, rather than eliminating every risk, whether we are talking booms or kabooms…sorry, it was too good to resist.

To that end, here is a list of ways to reduce the risk of propane explosion that I have learnt in some 35 years of going to sea with the fuel, that are in addition to the standard safety precautions, such as a vapour-tight locker for the bottles, required by the authorities.

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Justin C

Here in the UK regulation says 5 year replacement for flexible/rubber (is it rubber?) tubing. I attempted mine this year and did the cylinder to copper pipe OK, but the flexible (armoured) copper pipe to stove defeated me (no space, copper too soft and I bent it) had to call in the “experts”.

I say experts in quotes because, though they left me with a certificate saying all was good, when the boat was surveyed (insurance requirement after 5 years of ownership) the next day, the surveyor suggested improvements to the gas system. I don’t think the surveyor was being picky, or was trying to justify his price, I think the current requirements for certification here is the UK leave something to be desired – either that or the “experts” fudged it and should lose their license to certificate vessels.

Marc Dacey

Another vote for the Electro-Systems sniffer. I have an older model in my Atomic 4-powered sloop (I run propane outside, only, because inside propane on a gasoline-powered boat gives me nightmares) and if even a drop of gas hits the bilges during a maintenance job, the thing goes off to wake the dead.

For the newer boat, (diesel and a Force 10 stove) I’ll get a new sniffer and will bookmark this valuable summation. Good luck with the question to become Canuck.

Michael Purser

I am having a good experience with my new Origo alcohol stove. After nearly setting the boat on fire while trying to use the old-style, pressurized alcohol stove that came with my well-loved Pearson Vanguard, and eschewing propane due to increased complexity, maintenance, specialized storage space, and, oh yeah, the kaboom thing, I bought the Origo 3000 on the advise of James Baldwin (see The new alcohol technology uses a canister filled with non-flammable material, no pressure and works like a charm. No solenoids, gas-tight connections, alarms, etc. It heats water faster than I can get the coffee ready for it, and has a real low setting: no “tamer” required. One filled canister (~1/3 gallon) lasts one-two weeks. Do the math. No gasoline on the boat either. No kaboom.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Michael,
The only fires (numbering 3) I have seen and helped put out with were alcohol related stoves where the alcohol got spread out unseen and spread a fire. It is slippery stuff.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Michael Purser

It turns out I know how to operate a fire extinguisher! Check that off the “getting ready to go” list.


I’d rather deal with fire than an explosion.

You can add a bit of salt to make it more visible.

Michael Purser

Thanks for the tip Brian. The new alcohol stoves aren’t pressurized, the fuel doesn’t go anywhere (only fumes come out of the canister) and the fire hazard on my boat is near zero. BTW, the smoke alarm worked!

Martin Sonderegger

Hi Michael
Another tip is to keep the canisters as clean as you can get them.
Alcohol has the nasty habit to creep along dirt/rust/salt as if it were a wick which can lead to an explosive experiance upon igniting the stove.
I have had this happen with a tiny heater using the same system. (Thankfully harmless because of its size but still scary)

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Nice article well thought out and I endorse all aspects. I also have my system checked with a manometer when the opportunity arises. I have found good propane hose hard to find in the UK where copper is the preferred method, possibly the only legal method.
Dick Stevenson, s/ v Alchemy

pat synge

My understanding is that 1.2m is the maximum allowable length for flexible hose (here in Australia at any rate).

Also the current standards here require a 2 stage regulator.

If your gas alarm uses Figaro TGS 813 sensors (most seem to) they cost about $8 on a ‘certain online auction site’ ( or you can buy exactly the same item direct from the manufacturer of your alarm for between $30 and $60 if you prefer) . It’s a good idea to have a couple of spares as they are the component that is most likely to fail.

I’ve found the PEEL INSTRUMENTS Model 04-02-12V alarm extremely reliable.
I don’t know the ELECTRO SYSTEMS one but I’m sure it’s good if it’s made in Canada 🙂


Instead of checking for leaks with washing up liquid or other methods, fit an Alde Leak detector immediately downstream of the regulator, then by a simple press of the button you will see if you have any leaks.

The Neureus range of Gas Detectors has a waterproof sensor – so you can fit in the bilges without risk of it going wrong, other types fail the first time they get wet.
and if you want to – then you can have duel sensors plus a solenoid valve that trips when the alarm senses gas.

No connection to either companies – just a concerned sailor that wants to keep safe



Hi John,
The way I use the Alde Leak detetctor, is to make sure all the devices using gas are switched off ( we only have the cooker -so making sure that all the burners are off ) and then press down on the test “button”. If no bubbles flow then there is no leak down stream, conversely if bubbles do flow then there is a leak downstream and at that point other leak tests (such as your sniffer or washing up liquid ) are required.
It is very simple and almost fool proof, plus – by turning on / burning gas on the cooker I can see that the Alde detector is working – and that is an important double check 🙂

It obviously doesn’t check the connection between the cylinder / regulator and the inlet to the leak tester – I can live with that because these are all in the vented gas locker


Hi John,
In our propane stove installation on a CS27 we included a manual gas ball valve(90 degree throw) in-line near the tank. This replaced the solenoid.
We decided on this approach for 3 reasons; (1) simple, (2) quick visual confirmation that the gas was turned off (or on), (3) no solenoid/switch ensures stove is functional in an emergency situation where all electrical power is lost. The down side is everyone has to religiously remember to go outside to turn off the valve after use. A compromise solution no doubt, and not a solution for everyone, but it worked for us.

Eric Klem

Hi Norris,

While I have a propane solenoid installed for all of the reasons that John states, I think that everyone should carry the fittings to set up the system as you describe. It seems that the solenoids have a somewhat bad habit of failing and the easiest thing to carry to deal with this failure are the fittings to bypass it until you are back near civilization. At least on our boat, the fittings on the two ends of the solenoid are not the same so I actually carry an adapter to do this as you can’t simply remove the solenoid. After all, a broken stove could pose a minor safety issue and a major morale issue if it broke far from civilization.


Tim Gift

I also installed a gas ball valve, but to avoid having to go outside I connected the valve to a morse cable that runs into the galley. I can now turn the gas on/off right at the tank while standing at the stove. Whether the knob is pulled out or pushed in, and the valve open or closed, is immediately obvious from almost everywhere inside the boat.


I believe you meant CNG (compressed natural gas @ 2,400 – 3,600 psi) which is lighter than air and great on boats, but difficult to find filling locations.
LNG (liquid natural gas) is a cryogenic ( -240 degrees), liquid state of natural gas with higher energy density per volume than CNG but would be even harder to find than CNG.

Marc Dacey

CNG is probably the best fuel in terms of safety, but it’s like the Betamax of stove fuels….hard to source and these days, uncommon.

John, did you and Phyllis ever consider kero or diesel stoves? They are fiddly and require careful adjustment to avoid sooting, but “one less fuel to carry” is a powerful argument, particularly given your sometimes remote choice of cruising grounds.


John, Since I am using and (So Far) happy with my Fireboy please relate to us your experience with that system that was unsatisfactory.
Thanks, S/V Golden Echo.


I, too, would enjoy hearing John’s experiences as we are also using the Fireboy system and are also happy with it. That said, one failure mode I’ve experienced is where a shorted solenoid coil damages the relay inside the control unit, thus necessitating factory repair. Fireboy recommends adding a one amp fuse in line with the solenoid to protect the control relay. If the solenoid fuse blows, that’s the signal something is wrong with the solenoid or its wiring.
Our propane lockers are flush with the deck and this places the solenoid under a salt-water drip when spray is coming on deck. After loosing two solenoids (and thus two relays) due to corrosion in 6 years I sourced a higher quality solenoid that should be less prone to salt-water destruction. The new solenoid draws between one and two amps and thus exceeds Fireboy’s one amp capacity. My solution was to power the new solenoid with an added 12 volt accessory relay downstream from the control unit. The addition of the higher quality solenoid (plus a splash hood over it), the accessory relay, and the one amp fuse between relays has me hoping for no more rusty solenoids and blown relays.

Bill Attwood

I still find it difficult to understand how a rational safety conscious sailor can allow gas on a boat. Just reading through John’s list of ways to make gas safer would put off most people if installing from new. Then there are the practical considerations of refilling bottles if you are away from home port. Even in the small area of the Baltic there are differences from country to country in type of gas, gas bottle and regulator. Then there is the need in some European countries to have the system tested and issued with a stick-on label of conformance, on a regular basis, every 2 years in Germany for instance. In Borneo we were often treated to the sight of a large bottle hung upside down from the boom, filling the ship’s gas bottle on the cockpit sole.
I make no apologies for the fact that we are dedicated users of a Taylors paraffin cooker. My wife is an excellent cook, and we both like to eat well. Paraffin is safe, easy tp buy all over the world, and energy rich, we can carry a 6 month supply on our 36 foot boat. The small price to pay for lack of convenience and occasional soot seems to me to be well worth it.
Yours aye

Bill Attwood

Oops! I have reread my post and must apologise for the polemic. My opinion stands, but I withdraw any implied criticism of those who don’t share my view. I could have put it much better.

Colin Speedie

Hi Bill

there’s no doubt that gas has very real risks, but all cooking materials have their own issues. I have had one fire on a boat where the ‘quick lighter’ malfunctioned and set fire to the deck head lining, and I know another boat where an alcohol spill caused a blaze. I’ve also heard of fires with paraffin boat heaters. All, to some degree, caused by operator error.
There’s less chance of ‘operator error’ with gas in my view, and if installed properly and maintained correctly a gas installation is as safe as any – in my view.
And as far as refilling is concerned we’ve always managed it everywhere we’ve been (Europe, W Africa, Brazil, Caribbean). We now have a collection of regulators fit for a museum! But equally, paraffin (or at least good quality stuff) is now hard to come by in many places.
Personally I never liked the smell of a paraffin or alcohol cooker, but that’s by the by.
Best wishes

Colin Speedie

Hi John
just a few comments:

The nearest I ever came to going into orbit was when copper pipe passed through a wooden deck corroded away and dumped all the gas into the bilges of the boat I was skippering at the time. I had warned the owners that putting solid copper pipe through wood (and especially at deck level) was a bad idea – but they disagreed. Moral – use appropriate materials at key places in your gas run, and especially where there is any chance of chafe and/or damp – and check it regularly. If necessary sheathe the pipe in a way that protects it but does not allow water ingress between the pipe and the protective material. Tube passed through bulkheads or laid along stringers (that can gather water) are classic examples where problems can arise.
Keep the installation as simple as possible, with the minimum number of joints. I agree with your point about flexible tube all the way, and would love to be able to use it, but generally legislation won’t allow it.
Finally, I always use an appropriate gas resistant sealant sparingly on joints – I find it works well.
Best wishes

Hans Jakob Valderhaug

Thank you for a highly informative thread.

We have been cooking with kerosene for 40 years, sharing Bill’s views above. We have always managed to obtain kerosene, buying Jetfuel when other blends of kerosene not available.

We are now however at a “cooking fuel crossroads”.

In our current boat the previous owner has had the Taylor cooker rebuilt to use Swiss made Bertschi burners. Parts for these are getting harder to source, at least for non-German speakers. The new Taylor burners (from or ) are not a simple replacement item – we have tried. It seems we are looking at a costly rebuild to our cooker.

So we are now considering changing to propane, using some of the advice in this thread. Now I never thought we would come to this..

Bill Attwood

Hi Hans Jakob,
Hate to see a good man go bad.
We paraffin users need all the members we can get. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy a new or second hand “standard” Taylors rather than a completely new gas set up? I’d have thought that costs would be at least the same or so close that finance wouldn’t be a consideration. We have changed to the new burners, from Chr. Weimeistee in Hamburg, and they are a vast improvement on the old Taylors burners. Taylors paraffin cookers seem to come up for sale quite often on Ebay.
Keep the faith!
Yours aye

Hans Jakob Valderhaug


Thank you for the feedback and encouragement. I promise we will keep our eyes and minds open, our wallets hopefully less so!

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
I have 2 sniffers which are Fireboy, the M2A and the S1, both of which I check regularly with gas from a lighter. They have worked for me for decades with occasional change of the sensor which seems to have a 4-8 year life span. I personally do not like the sniffer which turns off the solenoid automatically as, when the sniffer goes bad, the propane is shut off, as it should. Replacement from spares is not a big job, but sometimes this is not at a convenient time and you are without a cooker till replacement. Our solenoid is manual and with its red led light, prominent next to the cooker,not easy to forget. The automatic is safer probably.
My Best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

pat synge

Hi John
Probably just a typo on your part but if the alarm sound you should probably switch the gas off at the bottle as well not just at the cooker.

Personally I prefer to keep the detector controlling the solenoid.
It would be good to also have a bypass circuit in case of detector failure.
And, as suggested above, it’s good to be able to bypass (or remove) the solenoid in case of solenoid failure.

If it can go wrong it will!

Dick Stevenson

John, When will companies learn? I do not give many second chances nowadays for that kind of thing. Dick

Bill Robinson

On a recent delivery to the Philippines, I experienced another dangerous propane system failure. The Turkish regulator basically crumbled apart. This was caused mainly by electrolysis between the dissimilar metals that they are made off. In this case, the regulator was some type of cast aluminum, and the integral fitting for attatching it to the cylinder was brass. I smelt the propane leaking from the vented propane locker, that was not venting, due to the fact that the vent drain was under water when heeled to Port! Two lessons here, check the regulator, regularily, and make sure that the propane locker can drain at all normal angles of heel! The boat was a high end, French built cruiser racer, in generally good condition.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Tim,
I agree that that is a creative and interesting solution.
I would only suggest that you shut off your valve with the control cable while a burner is lit and watch it go out and then turn off the burner. When I have innovative solutions, I like to have a check and double check, especially where to down side is as disagree-able as a gas leak.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

This is my habit ashore and at sea: I turn off the gas at the bottle end (or at the solenoid) and burn off the contents of the hose (generally five seconds or so). If the hose is empty of gas, gas can’t leak from it. Such habits don’t actually *solve* a leak, but they make me feel slightly better about the use of propane in the first place.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Our gas system refit is just completed as per the advice in this post. Thanks so much for the guidance, this is truly a great resource. Our new gas compliance certificate is in the ship’s manual, and both remote sensors are tested. The only difference from your set-up as described being we used an integrated alarm and solenoid controller from BEP that is designed to use low “keep alive” current so the solenoid stays much cooler when on and uses much less power than our old solenoid, which got too hot to touch after about 15 minutes use!

So having tested the system I celebrated with a beer in the saloon thinking about the implications of what we have achieved, and then inevitably pondered some “what ifs”…. so what if we are in the outer isles of Fiji and the bilge alarm goes off? Of course I go to the cockpit and turn off the gas at the bottle. I open the hatches and lift some floor boards. But what if the alarm is still sounding? Is this even best practice?
If our engine is running at the time should I shut it down? Should I isolate my batteries? Should I disconnect my bilge pump, or will this be intrinsically safe? Should I run my bilge pump in dry pump mode? What anti-static precautions should I take myself? Could I use our plastic inflatable dinghy pump to pump the air/propane mix from the bilge (with a suitable extension hose) into our cockpit that self- drains? Should I rig wind socks in the hatches to increase the wind flow?
I realise this is a lot of hypothetical questions, so my apologies in advance.
As always I would really appreciate the combined wisdom of AAC folk.
“Only the paranoid survive”

Rob Gill

Great response John thanks, more so in that your solution as always is based on hard gained experience and scars!
In our case since we have an integrated alarm and solenoid controller – the moment an alarm goes off, the solenoid also turns off, so I think the gas bottle would be my first isolation point. I also think your first comment about the sensitivity of the sensors is a great one – and possibly I am over thinking this now.

I need to explore these blowers – our engine blower seems auto-controlled by the engine as there is no remote activation switch, and there is no bilge blower (production boat). And of course a portable propane sniffer!

Cheers, Rob

pat synge

The first question is: why only if you are in “the outer isles of Fiji”? 🙂
The second is, where are your sensors located?

Rob Gill

Hi Pat,
Fiji isles because that is where we are aiming for our first offshore adventure from NZ, but also because Murphy’s Law states ” if it can go wrong it will”, and always in the most inconvenient place – ie. with no recourse to outside assistance and having only the resources we have on board available.
The sensors are as per John’s post, one in the bilge and one under the stove. The gas locker vents overboard. In my “what if” scenario the bilge alarm located just above the bilge sump is going off, as this is a difficult spot to ventilate being the lowest and one of the least accessible spots in the vessel, on the centre line, but under the (removeable) saloon floor boards.

Marc Dacey

I find this funny, because whenever I describe the logistics of collecting rent and keeping a house maintained from a distance, I use Fiji as the reference: “I don’t want to get a call about a leaking tap in Fiji”. In my Canadian case, Fiji is literally half a world away.

Terry Thatcher

I know this is very late comment, but here goes. I have an old Seaward Princess propane stove. It has worked for over 30 years, but the actual stove top is rusting out, it has no thermocouples, and it has lost burner strength. Thus, when I get home from my current tropical cruise, I may replace it. (I already made the gimbal changes, along with the other safety changes, you suggest. ). Anyway, Force 10 sounds like a less than competent product. I have had good luck with a Dickenson propane cabin heater (yeh Canada). Has anyone out there installed one of their propane stoves? Thanks.

Jeffrey Stander

Hi Terry. I have been keeping our Princess going for a long time. Dirt in the tubes is probably causing the lost burner strength. Talk to Todd at Suremarine in Seattle. The have some parts and good info.

Tim Dawbarn

We have fitted clockwork timer switches near our stove that control the gas solenoid valve. Ours is an 8 hour device which is more than enough for oven baking, etc. At the end of the time set on the dial, the switch returns to the off position turning the propane cylinder solenoid valve off. As there is no over ride (although the knob can be turned to a longer setting at any time if necessary) we know the gas will always turn off fairly soon after using the stove. Worth the effort. Yes, we still turn the cylinder valve off for extra security when leaving the boat.
Tim D

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Tim, where did you get this device, or what make is it? All I am able to find is 120mins max (which usually would be sufficient for cooking anyway).
Quite late to this thread so I don’t know if I’ll get an answer but I’m trying nonetheless 😉

Brian Stannard

The Electro Systems sniffers are no longer produced unfortunately. I’m in Victoria where they were made. To my knowledge there is not a comparable sniffer available at or near the same price as the Electro Systems. Trident has one I have installed a few times but about $200 more.

Marc Dacey

Unfortunately , I was defrauded by Electro Systems when I returned a new unit for service early this year. They vanished into thin air and I am out nearly $500. I had to go with a Trident, a visibly inferior product, at least to my eye.

Jeffrey Stander

We too used to always forget to turn off the gas solenoid. I installed a red LED pilot light visible from the dinette to indicate when the gas is on. Problem solved.

I also suggest the disconnect switch is NOT next to the cooker. If there’s a galley fire you don’t want to have to reach through the flames for the solenoid switch.

Terence Thatcher

Jeffrey: The rust on the Princess stove made it not worth keeping after 38 years. I got a 3 burner Dickinson and am very pleased with it.

Chuck Batson

Bummer that the Electro Systems device is no longer available. It appears the remaining available options are Xintex, Trident, BEP, and Safe-T-Alert. (The Xintex model linked in the article has been superseded by another model, which… maybe is better or different? The utter lack of customer service is concerning though.)

Tough choice. It is probably down to the Xintex or the Trident. Trident alarms “sooner” at 10% LEL vs. Xintex’s 20%.

I too would prefer the sensor not control the solenoid, but on my small boat having the one panel rather than two is tempting.

Rob Gill

Hi Chuck, we have had the BEP integrated unit with two remote LPG sensors and solenoid function since Nov 2015 (see my comment above). It has been completely reliable to date, sensing even use of aerosol sprays in the galley area, on occasions. From memory, the electronic solenoid control function saves us about 3->4 amp hrs over the direct 12V one that came with the boat (which got really hot in the gas locker), and we find the control buttons and display easy to use. On the occasions a gas sensor has alarmed, we have found the unit straight forward to re-set. The control is in our “busy” Nav Station so like you, happy to have the one unit. Another big plus of an integrated unit is if a sensor alarm goes off, the solenoid shuts off the gas supply instantly. That is a big safety plus in my book and a reason to integrate the two functions.
BEP is now owned as part of the Mastervolt Group, so should be around for spares.
Br. Rob

Rob Gill

Hi John, the one you linked to above is the twin sensor model. The unit that adds the electronic solenoid control with “keep alive” function is this one:
Br. Rob

Chuck Batson

Hello Rob, thank you so much for this. Based on your experience and my research, I decided to install the BEP 600-GDL. Haven’t yet used it extensively, but so far it’s functioning well. The solenoid pulse feature is quite compelling on its own accord – current draw from the solenoid dropped 80%, from 800 mA to about 150 mA.

Terence Thatcher

I could use some help. I am revamping my propane locker. I was going to use the bulkhead fittings to carry the hose. But it looks to me as if I cannot get the end fittings through the hole in the bulkhead fitting. Only the hose will fit. But I don’t trust do it yourself propane fittings, so the new hoses have to be made at a certified propane shop. My hose is 5/8″. Am I wrong? Can I force the metal propane fitting thru the bulkhead rubber washer? Sorry for such a stupid question.

Frans Botman

Hello Tim and Ernest,

Where can I buy those clockwork timer switches? Did you install them between the feed line and the solenoid?


Frans Botman

Hello All in Europe,

The idea of using a single flexibel gas line is appealing. Any tips on where to get those kind of lines in Europe? And the thru wall fitting that seals of the locker?

Thank you


Alex Borodin

Hi Frans,

I’ve found a 5m flexible gas line on the first try on I’m sure if you contact local professional gas technicians, they’ll be able to recommend sources for everything you will need.

Ronald Kraus

Thank you for the very informative article. I now have new projects for this winter to make the boat propane system safer. You are masterful in communicating safety concerns like this that can’t be found elsewhere (and what to do about them).

Several years ago I replaced my propane regulator with a Double Bottle Regulator. I bought what looked like a better quality unit but was still underwhelmed by the workmanship and components. There’s a limited market for these units and its obvious they haven’t invested much in the engineering, components and manufacturing of these units.
What about building a regulator from industrial or commercially available components to bump up the quality and reliability? From what I can see on line all the components can be sourced for a modest sum and assembled on a (small) panel. I’d include a permanently mounted pressure gauge on the output (I think the output is 2.5-3 psi). Probably a DYI project for those with resonable plumbing skills. ABYC has A-1 Marine LPG standard which would need to be complied with. Thoughts?

Best regards,
Ron Kraus
Annapolis, MD