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Provisioning gas for extended cruising

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What is the issue?
Most yachts have small gas lockers optimised for small and exchangeable 'liquefied petroleum gas' (LPG) cylinders. These exchangeable cylinders offer limited capacity and are geared towards local weekend or at best week-long cruising in an area where the bottles are readily exchangeable rather than ongoing live-aboard dependence in remote locations.

Why address this?
A cruising vessel's crew is entirely dependent, 24 x 7 x 365, on the stove for hot food and drinks. Consequently, they are reliant upon the stove's LPG gas supply and its holding capacity. The smaller the gas holding capability is aboard, the more the crew has to source and provision gas supplies, and often this will have to be done in places where it is difficult to obtain them. This is particularly the case with international travel where filling non-standard bottles may often only be achieved at very large main gas depots.

How to address this?
The best solution is to implement a large gas cylinder and gas locker from the outset plus a reasonably sized second pair of cylinders that provide a storage reserve capable of supporting the needs of the vessel over long periods. The larger the capacity that can be stored the longer the period between refills and the more likely you will be able to refill in ports of convenience.


There are broadly two LPG cruising choices available worldwide, Propane (blue cylinders) or Butane (red cylinders).

Popular CAMPINGAZ 907 butane bottle used in European boats
Photo: Courtesy of CAMPINGAZ
The primary difference between the two gases is that propane will not freeze. It can be used in temperatures down to minus 43° centigrade whereas butane will begin to freeze at about 3° centigrade. Propane operates at a higher pressure of about 100 psi rather than butane's pressure of about 15 psi and as such requires stronger cylinders.

Butane, however, has a higher calorific value, which means it burns hotter so everything can get cooked quicker, is a cleaner fuel, and cylinders of the same size hold slightly more butane than propane. These attractive properties make it by far the predominant LPG of choice. However, in the United States, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and the Nordics propane is the more widely used LPG.

In use, the two gases are virtually the same but the cylinders have different regulators and connectors. Most appliances can be used with either butane or propane without any modification. Just make allowances for the hotter burning butane when using it with a stove designed for propane by not turning the stove up to its full heat.


Building up a good suite of cylinders is the key objective. The larger the better but cylinders should not be so large that they are unwieldy to transport to and from the vessel for refills. For instance, if you elect for a 15kg bottle, you have a good storage reserve but may require a trolly to move it about or the use of a taxi to take you to the refill centre and some taxi drivers take exception to carrying gas bottles.

The useful CALOR 15Kg butane cylinder
Photo: Courtesy of CALOR
Not everyone has the flexibility to choose a large cylinder and use it as a feed bottle. The requirement for gas lockers to be self-contained and both externally and bottom vented may not allow large cylinders in a particular vessel's arrangement. Most European boats have gas lockers designed around the CAMPINGAZ 907 bottle which is an expensive way to purchase gas. This is much to the consternation of UK boaters who are challenged to fit in a local and much lower cost CALOR butane 4.5kg cylinder in the same locker let alone anything larger.

In such a case volume may be created by having multiples of smaller sized gas bottles and/or a large bottle with a few small sized bottles. Then, as all the supply cylinders that fit the locker are run down, decanting from a large reserve bottle Experience into the cylinders that can be fitted into the vessel's gas locker. This is a good way to fill up in port too. It is more expensive to fill many smaller bottles rather than a single large bottle so decanting makes sense for refills if you have the time. Smaller bottles do however have the advantage of being more convenient to transport from the yacht to the refill point.

It is unlikely that anyone will have a problem sourcing butane but having a propane bottle or two can be advantageous. As mentioned propane requires much higher cylinder pressures and cannot be stored in a butane cylinder. Butane, however, can be stored in a propane cylinder, so if you have propane cylinders you have the ability to refill with propane if you cannot get butane and have these bottles available.

It is really down to personal preference. During my circumnavigation, where I learned to decant LPG and take in local supplies from bottles as they came and move my reserves around, I had a large 15kg bottle plus two medium sized 4.5kg bottles that I could fit in my gas locker plus one propane bottle. I found this more than ideal for a boat for two and we had no problems once I built up that reserve.

There is, unfortunately, no worldwide standardisation of gas usage, gas cylinders, or gas valves and fittings as far as LPG is concerned. If you are planning extended cruising you will most likely be moving between nations with different gas bottle standards. This means you will not be exchanging bottles but rather refilling the original bottles that you departed with for the duration of the cruise. Consequently, the ones you start off with have to last for some time. To ensure the longevity of service you should carefully select a brand new bottle on your final exchange before departing so they start off in excellent condition.

CALOR 3.9kg propane cylinder
Photo: Courtesy of CALOR
They will degrade over time as gas lockers are always external and must bottom vent. This places them in a position in most yachts where they can receive ample salt water splashes or, at the very least, are subject to moist salty airs. In time this causes the best of gas cylinders to rust and or corrode. If you are planning a passage of many years and are decanting, it makes sense to paint a pair of bottles with multiple coats of durable metal paint that will take the brunt of the salty locker work. Try to paint a cylinder the same colour as the original or as close as you can. No LPG cylinder should ever be painted a dark colour because it absorbs all the heat and in the event of it being full and left in direct sunlight, it could casue a rupture.
Please note

In some parts of the USA it is illegal to paint a cylinder anything other than its original colour.

Painting the cylinders will help protect them for the long term but refill plants may take exception to them so you will need other bottles to take ashore. You may not be able to exchange them in the future when you return to your home port.


As already mentioned care must be taken in how the gas is stowed. Store and use gas bottles in an upright position in a well-ventilated locker that vents externally and is away from heat and ignition sources. It is absolutely essential to ensure that the locker in which the gas reserves are stored cannot leak into the boat because the gas, being heavier than air, will sink into the bilge and accumulate there. If this takes place in a high enough concentration a tiny spark, which can be generated by a switch or even static electricity, could ignite the accumulated gas and blow the boat apart.

A recommended safety practice to avoid this is to install a gas sniffer and alarm. There are a wide variety of gas alarms available and some are specifically designed for use on boats with features such as waterproof sensors, that survive both splashing water & total immersion. They can detect butane, propane as well as gasoline (petrol) fumes. In the better installations, the alarm performs a self-test that will allow the solenoid to open only after it has checked for fumes. In the event of fume accumulation the solenoid will shut off the supply and the alarm will sound. These alarms are small, neat & easy to install & combine fast response & high performance with very low power consumption.

It is also important to simply stick one's nose into all the potential gas-trapping spaces and sniff about for any traces of gas. LPG is odourless in its natural state but it has smelly gases added as a safety measure. It is also important to check that the gas refills in foreign locations have this scent added. If it has not got the scent, don't refill as it is not safe to have on board.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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