Propane Blast Sinks Boat... - 09/26/2007

An example of a separate compartment for storing propane

It appears that an explosion that sank the 62-foot schooner Chebucto on Monday, September 10, 2007, was caused by a propane tank. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt but a boat was destroyed and a charter business ruined.

Ann Norris, wife of boat owner Dave Norris, said her husband had just turned on the kitchen's propane tank to make a pot of tea. The massive explosion blew the top off the rear cabin and punched a hole in the hull alongside the engine room, causing water to gush into the hull causing the boat to sink at the dock.

A witness, John Hobbis, was pulling into the dock to unload passengers from his tour boat just before noon when the Chebucto blew apart and sank within minutes. "At first, I thought it was the noon cannon going off... but realized it was way too loud and close for that," he said.

So how do we deal with propane, safety, and storage?

First of all these incidents illustrate that propane is certainly something to have a healthy respect for.

Second, if you will remember that Propane gas is HEAVIER THAN AIR, you will be guided (by common sense) as to how to make your system safe.

The tanks should be stored in lockers that do not allow the propane gas to leak to the interior of the boat. The locker should be completely gas-proof except drain holes at the bottom of the locker that vent overboard and gas that leaks from the tank or fittings. Obviously the ganks and the hose must be securely fastened to the locker.

The regulator and hose should be situated so that it is easy to change from one tank to the other. The hose must be a regular LPG approved hose and be a continuous piece – NO SPLICES -- from the tank to the stove. Where it passes through the vapor tight bulkhead, seal the opening with a waterproof sealant of some sort.

Install detectors which will sound a loud alarm in the event of leak.

A solenoid cutoff valve installed on the top of the tank will permit remotely turning the tank off from inside the boat. The switch for the solenoid can be located in the galley and the switch must be turned on in order for gas to flow to the stove.

Switch on to cook, and then off when finished.

There should be a bright red light to remind you to turn off the switch.

The most important safety tip is to know that propane is very dangerous when it accumulates in a confined area where a simple spark could ignite the fumes and cause a deadly explosion.

Regularly check you end fittings for tightness and your hose for chafe. If you take these simple precautions, you should be safe.