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I’m getting the feeling that our boat thinks we haven’t had enough repair jobs as of late. To fill that imagined void, ZTC decided to cause our propane solenoid to stop functioning this morning.

What is the job of this solenoid? A solenoid is basically a switch which operates when electricity is applied to it. This particular one is supposed to provide a means of remotely turning off the flow of gas to the stove or other appliances. It operates as a normally closed valve which only opens when 12V is applied to it. The switch that controls this flow of electricity is located beside the stove.

An image from Nigel’s book.

We noticed this morning that it was not working when the flame refused to extinguish after we turned off the remote switch by the stove. Our SOP (standard operating procedure) is to always turn the switch off before turning off the range and we do so for this very reason, to confirm the solenoid’s operation. Normally it works but in this case, it didn’t.

After a bit of troubleshooting on the switch, we hypothesized that the solenoid had gone bad. A quick look through Nigel Calder’s excellent book Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual confirmed that this is the most common element of a gas system to go bad. Although we don’t have a spare, both Budget Marine and Island Water World, the two large local chandleries, show in their catalogues that they carry such devices. As propane is probably the most dangerous item on our boat, this is one system that we want to get repaired properly!

Our solenoid valve is actually located upstream from the regulator,
not downstream as shown in the first image.

26 Comments

  1. Ah, failure in the on position is mechanical, stuck valve. If it wasn’t turning on that could be wiring, but in this case, replacement is definitely called for. Should be a simple job, once you have a part.

  2. Mike –

    Is the valve rated for operation at the 150-250 psi that it will see upstream of the regulator?

    bob
    s/v Eolian
    Seattle

    • I would have to assume yes. I think this is original. Assuming so, it took 13 years to fail!

      The real question is, are the ones in stock here in the chandlery rated for that?

  3. There should be a release on the top of the solenoid like a c-clip that let’s you mechanically turn it off (except for the fact that it is may be impossible to pull the clip due to corrosion, placement, etc).

    I always followed a protocol of turning off the tank manually, then the solenoid while the flame was still going to eliminate any propane leaking. Cost me a bit of extra propane, but …

    • While that is no doubt the safest protocol, it really isn’t practical given that our propane locker is in our port bow. I think our method is plenty safe, assuming all of the parts are functioning.

    • Seems if you ALWAYS followed that protocol, you had no need for a solenoid switch

      • The solenoid gives you an alternate method of stopping the flow of gas to the stove. In our case, power to the solenoid can be interrupted by the switch beside the stove (galley – port hull) and also via a switch at the electrical panel (starboard hull). When the solenoid is off no gas flows to the galley. By turning the solenoid off first, we burn off all of the gas in the line between the propane locker and the galley.

  4. After seeing that sailboat on fire, I would be checking for gas/fuel/diesel leaks once a week. Sad to see that boat burn to the waterline, as well as incredibly scary..

  5. Just remember to hum Love Will Keep Us Together while repairing it!

  6. The propane system is a key element to the story, Finding Annie. Hope you find the time to read it Mike. Look forward to hearing your feedback on it. In the meantime, cold food would be the order of the day in my opinion. Get that fixed the right way. I had this system on my boat and have some great stories to tell. It’s a wonder I made it through the learning curve when installing that system on my boat. Looks simple but maybe I was consuming too many adult beverages at the time. Or other things.

  7. If it is a mechanical problem, give it a sharp tap. Not a hard hit! 🙂

    That may well free a stuck valve, at least temporarily.

    Mike

  8. Ours looks like a Christmas tree compared to yours (stove+heater+hot water+fridge = 4 lines)!

    Yes, the up-stream valve location is standard.

    We have detectors in both hull, linked to the solenoid, which is another reason. Folk with propane fridges MUST have these since the gas is left on. You probably don’t need them. so long as you remain vigilant. They do work; I’ve had the gas cut-off by glue fumes.

  9. The safest way to prevent problems with propane is to definetly turn it of at the tank. The solenoid is a nice safety feature but not fail proof.
    On a different thought, diesel is flammable! Given the right conditions a slight diesel leak will combust into a nasty fire.

    • Unquestionably the safest but not always practical.

      As for diesel, my point was not that it won’t burn but that when compared to gasoline and propane, it is infinitely harder to ignite.

  10. What a coincidence. Early this week a Gas engineer friend of mine currently in the Canaries on his 42 CSY found his gas tank empty, having just changed it for a fresh one. On closer inspection a gas supply pipe that he had replaced only last year “was found split and to have Perished ” his words not mine. Fortunately the CSY was built properly with a decent gas locker and drain and his gas had gone off the boat but it could have been a different story. Take nothing for granted with gas or solenoids. A family members one year old 40 foot vessel burned down to the water line in Majorca due to a stuck bow thruster solenoid causing a total burn out of the surrounding area and laterly the rest of the boat.

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