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Refilling butane gas bottles when your cylinder is not compatible with the local standard

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What is the issue?
Cruising vessels are completely dependant on their stoves for food and drinks fed by exchangeable butane gas cylinders. But extended cruising takes yachts to nations with different gas bottle standards. Thus it is not possible to exchange bottles for refills except in very large ports. In provincial areas there may be no local means of refilling the vessels non native bottles.

Why address this?
At best filling non national cylinders may only be achieved at a large central gas depot. These are difficult to get to and will require an expensive taxi ride if you can convince them to transport gas bottles. Typically these depots make you return the following day to collect the refilled cylinders. At worst you will not be able to replace your gas cylinders locally, obliging you to invest in a local regulator and cylinder or reroute your passage plans to a main city with a large depot to obtain it.

How to address this?
Refill your cylinders by making a connector as shown in figure 1 and refill your bottles by decanting gas from a local cylinder into your vessels bottles.

You may achieve this with butane cylinders by the following steps:
1/ Buy a valve connector for the local standard butane bottle.
2/ Connect it into a reinforced gas pipe and place a valve from your vessels bottles in the other end. Make certain these are connected well with secure hose clips and there is zero possibility of leaks.
3/ Hire a local cylinder. Typically these are exchanged however most vendors will be happy to take it back empty at no charge if you leave a deposit for the bottle.
4/ Go to a remote well ventilated area with a potential hoist point where there are no people or naked flames. A quiet beach with a tree would be ideal.
5/ Connect the joined pair of valves to the two bottles.
6/ Connect a hoist to the bottom of the full local bottle and hang it up upside down so the valve is at the bottom. Stand your vessels empty cylinder on the ground beneath as normal with the valve aloft.
7/ Open both valves. The pressure will begin to immediately equalise between both cylinders. As the pressurised butane is in a liquid form it will squirt down during pressurisation equalisation very quickly. After this it will then slowly flow down afterwards from the top cylinder into the vessels cylinder at the bottom. The latter can be slow depending on the valve but typical it should be complete in about thirty minutes to an hour.
8/ Once the first vessel cylinder is full, close both valves and replace the bottom cylinder with the next empty one, reopen the valves and repeat the process. Repeat until you have exhausted the top cylinder or run out of capacity to contain it.
9/ To dismantle close off both valves. Disconnect both ends and lower the emptied cylinder.
10/ Check that there are no naked flames. Once you are absolutely safe open one of the valves and drain out the remnant gas in the connector pipe.
10/ Return local cylinder to the vendor for the deposit.

Some make decanting more efficient by placing the vessels cylinder in iced water to cool the butane, contracting the fluid to increasing the fill. I have not tried this and so cannot comment however I would advice against this practice. As a rule of thumb cylinders should be only 70% full in the tropics to allow for expansion should they be left in direct sunlight.

With thanks to:
Mark Murray, Yacht 'Motivator'.

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Witold Miedzybrodzki wrote this review on Oct 15th 2009:
RE. Refilling butane gas bottles when your cylinder is not compatible with the local standard I am a Process Engineer/ HSE Adviser in the oil industry (nor am I a yachtsman. I am not an expert on filling LPG gas bottles but feel a bit concerned about this article. How do you ensure the bottle is not completely liquid filled? If it is completely liquid filled with no gas space then, because of ambient temperature changes or sunlight, the pressure can increase very quickly (30 mins) to such a level that the bottle will fail catastrophically. These are not theoretical but are actual events that happen quite often in my industry. I suggest you discuss this with a bottled gas expert before doing it or you and your crew may get killed or badly burned if you do this. Witold

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