Adding a Deck Access Port to the Propane Locker

Adding a Deck Access Port to the Propane Locker

February 22nd, 2010  |  by Marilyn  |  Published in Upgrades

One of the things the pre-purchase survey turned up was that the propane locker did not meet ABYC standards, in part because it did not have access via the top of the locker. Instead, it had only side access, and difficult side access at that. So we decided to do something about it.

As built, the Nic 38s did not have a propane locker. According to the original design drawings (yes, we have those!), there was supposed to be two 10 lb calor gas bottles under the galley sink for the stove and on-demand hot water heater. The boat now uses propane, and today’s standards dictate that propane tanks must be stored in lockers that are tightly sealed from the cabin, with a suitable overboard “drain” for the heavier-than-air, very explosive propane gas in case there is a leak.

The original boat owner back in the 70’s had a propane locker added behind the aft cabin’s starboard quarterberth. This propane locker is only accessible via a vertical panel within the aft locker, with the locker being accessed from a lid on the aft deck. So, if you wanted to turn on or off the tank valves, you had to go to the aft deck, lift the locker door, clear a bunch of stuff out of the way and climb down inside the deep locker. Then, at the vertical access panel, unscrew 4 wingnuts without dropping them inside the deep locker, lift off the vertical panel, awkwardly reach into the locker to find the valves and see if you could twist them. Needless to say, the previous owner just left the valves open all the time, and used the electronic solenoid switch to control the gas flow. The problem with this is that if there were a leak between the solenoid and tank, we’d loose all our propane at best, and at worst there could be some terrible explosion.

As a rule, we prefer to leave the tank valves closed when not in use. So, we decided to add a deck plate to the aft deck that would allow access to the valves and viewing of the gauges without the whole climb-in-the-aft-locker routine. Beckson deck plates are pretty slick according to reviews, so we chose a 6” version to install.

First step – cut a big hole in the deck. Captain Van just did it one day, with some careful thought about placement, but without all the drama associated with ‘I’m cutting a hole in the deck – ACK!’ that I probably would have felt. He did a great job positioning it over the tank valves, but missing the stringers that crisscross the deck to strengthen it. Then he followed the Beckson instructions that say ONLY USE SILICONE to seal the plate in place, along with the #8 1” stainless bolts. The deck is solid fiberglass in that area, rather than being a cored deck, so it wasn’t even necessary to do any epoxy sealing of the hole walls. He sent me on a errand just as he was starting to cut the deck, and before I was back, he had the job finished! Great!

So now we have our nice ABYC recommended top access to the propane locker. Very cool! Of course, the deck plate is not big enough to extract the bottles so we still need to do the  climb-in-the-aft-locker routine when the tanks need refilling. This means we still need to worry about getting the vertical access door properly sealed from the cabin. We’re buying some new neoprene weather stripping from McMaster-Carr to improve that problem. And we’re giving some thought to what would make better latches than those fiddly little wingnuts that are just too easy to drop into that deep dark locker.

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