“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Propane Problems

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Propane is probably the most used fossil fuel on Smitty.  We use it to cook with and on occasion we use it for heat.  The Catalina 310 came with two propane lockers.  They are located on either side of the swim step and both are separated from the rest of the boat and have their own vent line located low in the locker.

The propane locker on the starboard side is for the stove and oven.  There is an electric solenoid valve that is activated from a breaker at the electric panel. The inside of this locker is shaped to fit a very specific propane tank, the ten-pound aluminum tank.  These tanks sell for around $200.

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For the port propane locker we were able to fit a steel ten pound tank.  The actual shape of the locker is different.  This tank costs around $50. We use this tank for the propane Magma grill, aka Frankengrill.  This is much easier than using the small one-pound green cans.  Although we do carry some of the green cans as backup in a propane bag on the stern rail.

steel propane tankPropane bag

Side note on safety.  Some people don’t feel safe having propane on boats.  I think this comes mostly from not having a proper setup.  You can see from the description above that none of the propane is stored in the living cabin or other storage areas of the boat.  Propane should be in its own separate, dedicated locker with a vent at the bottom because propane is more dense than air and will sink.  Another good option for storing propane is to have it on the rail, like we do with the green cans.

The Propane Problem we had began last year when I went to the local U-Haul to get the propane tanks filled.  They refused to fill the aluminum tank because it had expired.  Almost all propane tanks are stamped with the date of manufacture and they are only valid for 12 years from that date.

Image from wikiHow

Image from wikiHow

Our aluminum propane tank was from May of 2000.  However it still looked to be in good shape.  There is a recertification process that generally costs around $50 that will recertify the tank for 5 years at a time.  The problem is that with the steel tanks like most people have for their grills the cost of the recertification is about the same as the cost for a new tank. As a result the propane tank recertification business is pretty much dead. I called over thirty (yes 3 – 0) differnet places.  No one wanted to recertify the tank.  I finally found one guy who was nice enough to explain why.  The short answer is lawyers!

Longer answer.  Most of the companies that still have the ability to recertify propane tanks only do this for their own tanks.  This particular company does tank swap outs for forklifts and other equipment.  They also do home propane tanks that are permanently installed for heating, cooking, generators, etc. In these situations they have some reasonable controller over the tanks. They either collect them on a regular basis or they have a service contract to fill the tank that allows their employees to inspect the tank on a regular basis. In the situation I was looking for they might never see the tank again.  I would take the tank away and could do any number of things to the tank.  If there was an accident and something happened to the tank, their name would be on the tank as having recertified it.  This would created an uncontrolled liability.

Thankful this guy was nice enough to take it a step further.  He called his corporate office and explained the situation.  They ok’d him to recertify my tank.  He was about a 45 minute drive from the boat.  I went down there and it was definitely not a business that is used to having customers on their lot.  It was really just an empty lot with a small office trailer, a very large propane tank and tons of small propane tanks ready to be swapped out for their customers.

The recertification took about 30 minutes.  They mainly just did a thorough visual inspection.  They didn’t do the hydrostatic testing I had read about online. Their main concern was the valve and they wanted to make sure that that look corrosion free and free of leaks.  Once they deemed it acceptable, they put a small gray sticker on the tank allows it to be refilled for another 5 years. They even topped off the tank for me.

When it was done I asked how much I owed and he wasn’t sure how to charge me.  They don’t take cash from their customers, most have ongoing accounts and get billed through the corporate office.  He could take a credit card but the person who does that already left for the day.  In the end he told me just to throw a couple of bucks to the guy that actually did the work. I gave him $20; he was happy for a free lunch and I was happy to have my tank for another 5 years.

On my way back to the marina I stopped at the U-Haul to get the tank for the grill filled.  I wasn’t going to press my luck and ask the other guy to fill that tank too. While the attendant was filling my tank he asked if it was for a sailboat. I told him it was.  He said another sailboat owner was in there that morning trying to get an aluminum tank filled but he had to turn them away because the tank was out of date.  Just then our friends Dave and Carol showed up and Dave had a brand new aluminum tank in his hands. He was the other sailboat owner from that morning.  Dave said he tried all of the local propane places to get his tank recertified but the best he could do was buy a new one for $200.

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2 thoughts on “Propane Problems

  1. My tank is a weird proprietary one that fits in the locker. I am glad I managed to get mine recertified (they hydro-tested and then put on a new stem), because no idea where I’d get a new one! I had mine done at a car garage, of all places

  2. We see propane in use in our area quite a bit, too. We have a few of those portable tanks that are probably pretty old, too. You said they should be re-certified every five years? We might end up just replacing them though if it’s as hard for us to do it as it was for you. Thanks for sharing!

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