Leaky Propane Installation

We returned to the US with a leaky propane installation that we could not seem to diagnose.  Everytime we’d “fix” it, a day later we’d be leaking propane again.  Propane is VERY dangerous and luckily the boat’s prior owner had installed it correctly – in it’s own lazarette, sealed off from the rest of the boat with a hatch opening topside and a propane drain vented overboard above the waterline.  Even so, we kept sniffing propane any time the valve was open long enough to cook something.

Propane Soapy Water Test

Propane Soapy Water Test

After the routine soapy water test didn’t show any leaks and since the aluminum propane tank is old, we suspected maybe the tank itself had a leak – which was NOT going to be good news since ours is a grandfathered horizontal tank and is not required to have the “new” OPD valve.  Since we were back in the US, we took the bottle to Balgas, a local propane distributor and had it checked.  All the testing came back perfect  — whew – that eliminates one problem, but didn’t “fix” the problem!

We went back to square one with the soapy water and toothbrush, but again and again, no leaks.  We decided it must be the regulator & pressure gauge that was somehow leaking.    We replaced them and kept our fingers crossed as we redid the soapy water test and then opened the valves and turned on the solenoid.  VOILA!  Finally, no propane leaking!

Every year when we “recommission” the propane bottle which is shut off at the bottle while we’re gone, we redo the soapy water test to make sure nothing is visibly leaking — if it’s leaking you’ll see lots of soap bubbles!  Luckily the system passed the soapy water test with flying colors and the propane stove (and dinner) is back in business!

Propane Regulator and Pressure Gauge All A-OK!

Propane Regulator and Pressure Gauge All A-OK!

If you’re not familiar with the soapy water test, it’s so easy.  Simply put a bit of Joy or dishwashing detergent into a glass with just a bit of water.  Brush it on all the connections with a toothbrush.  If there’s a leak, the soapy water will bubble up noticeably and you’ll identify your leak.   We do the soapy water test at least twice a year — when we return to the boat and when we shut everything down for the summer.

Anyone do the propane re-commissioning differently or have comments?  Leave a comment and let us know!  THX!  J


  1. We had an issue with our propane LOCKER! There were old screw holes from previous tank installation left unsealed. You mentioned proper installation in a designated locker with a deck opening and drain… well, we have that. But don’t forget to seal off any holes drilled in the locker walls or floor that could lead into the boat.

    We found them by way of a clogged drain when we had a big rain. Water came into the boat through the holes. A friend reminded me that if water can get in, so can propane if we ever had a leak. It was an easy fix. We tested the propane bottle and hoses while we were at it, no leaks!

    • Leon A. Falde says:

      At least you’re taking the problem seriously. You’d be surprized how many don’t. On outdoor grills some organizations recommend replacing the regulator and gauge yearly. Your set up probably has the same kind of regulator so a regular replacement schedule would be a good idea. Check with your propane supplier or the regulator manufacturer to find out what they recommend. Happy sailing.

    • Interesting Tammy — our propane locker has no holes, but it’s a good idea to check! That hadn’t occurred to me! Cheers — Jan

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