Minimizing Complexity and Cost Running Wires and Propane

Discussion in 'Boatbuilding' started by snowbirder, Mar 17, 2015.

  1. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    First, propane.

    Why the heck does ABYC require a separate run of propane, with a separate regulator, for every appliance??

    I have no less than 5 propane powered appliances.

    Previously, on RVs I've built that had 100,000 bumpy miles put on them, I used a single main trunk propane line (1/2" copper). From this, I teed off 3 different appliances. I could run the stove/oven, refrigerator and propane heater on this setup with a single regulator and never, in 5 years and 100,000 jarring miles, had a leak. Fittings were flange/nut style.

    Propane was not turned off in 5 years. Refrigerator ran all 5 years. Heater weeks at a time. Stove/oven when cooking.

    Why does ABYC want to waste my time and money?

    Do I have to follow this code, or can I do my propane system like I always do?


    I'd like to hear any ideas people have on maximizing the efficiency of a brand new, 12v/110v system aboard a 50'x25' catamaran. Currently, as with most cats, too much weight is aft relative to forward.

    With the goal of saving money, weight and time, I'm wondering what some of the best ways to tackle the wire runs are.

    Very centralized system with all electrical in one spot, then wire runs to every device?
    Or... Some kind of decentralized system with main trunks of wire running around the boat to tap off of and even batteries in different spots.

    What are people doing on larger cats to save money, time and weight?

    Thank you.
  2. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    This boat is not for sale. It's my boat. I'm aboard at all times and live aboard. N
  3. pdwiley
    Joined: Jun 2008
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    pdwiley Senior Member

    Real simple.

    1. RV's aren't watertight/gas tight. Boats are. Therefore a gas leak pools.

    2. Propane is heavier than air & settles into the bilges.

    3. Propane in the right air/fuel mix goes 'boom' very well.

    So no, you don't have to waste your time & money as long as you're happy that your insurance is void, you can be prosecuted for wilful violation of safety regulations and you're a candidate for a Darwin award.

    Your choice, really.

  4. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    That's just normal propane fear.

    1) My rv was air tight except where vents were installed, as is a boat.
    2) Propane would settle in the rv as well
    3) Same on land as at sea

    ABYC are SUGGESTED guidelines.

    Was really hoping for an intelligent discussion vs fear mongering without facts, but I guess this is the internet.

    Do you have any reasons (aside from fear of propane) or real life experience designing and installing propane systems to use to have a discussion based on facts?

    I'd really like to know why abyc suggests a line for every appliance, especially when a master line is more easily shut off in an emergency.

    Additionally, my Ts, which never once leaked, were subject to much greater forces and accelerations in a moving vehicle over 100,000 miles than some system rocking around with wave action.
  5. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    To add to the above, experience and accidents have shown that leaks are almost always at a fitting. The more fittings on a propane line the greater the odds of a leak.

    Better to have a centralized electrical panel and run branch circuits off of the panel. You can put batteries spread around the boat but they need to be in places that meet the rules. Batteries must be in a ventilated area, properly secured (can't be knocked over or move around). Putting them all in one place simplifies charging and maintenance. But it concentrates weight in one place, so spreading them around has an advantage, and it shortens wire runs. So you need to figure out what suits you best.

    Answer to: do I have to follow ABYC rules? No. They are voluntary. But keep in mind that Federal Rules (law) are also contained in the ABYC standards. And, if you get surveyed they are going to use ABYC Standards. Courts also defer to ABYC standards? So if you are happy with what you have and not worried about the other possibilities, well then so be it. (P.S. There are no USCG rules for propane on recreational boats unless you carry passengers for hire. Six pack)
  6. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    By the by, if you want to know why the ABYC standard for propane is the way it is write a letter (or send an email) to the Technical Committee that writes that standard/ They will be happy to send you a reply. It's standard A-1 Marine Liquified Petroleum Systems
    613 Third Street, Suite 10 – Annapolis, MD 21403 – Phone: (410) 990-4460 – Fax: (410) 990-4466
  7. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    Ok, that was a good discussion. Thanks. Points taken.

    Federal propane regulations for 6 pax are located at a link from your site?
  8. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

  9. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member


    What is frustrating me is basically a design problem.

    The galley and majority of weight is on the starboard side of a 25' beam boat. So, to keep things somewhat balanced, I was trying to locate batteries and propane to port.

    This was great until I read that abyc standard regarding propane. At $40 per 20' of copper, the individual lines are very cost prohibitive. Also, they don't even sell copper long enough, so you still need splices, which negates any safety found in running one line per appliance.

    I'm at my wit's end here. As of tonight, I'm starting to hate my boat.
    I was very excited to get it wrapped up to the point of moving aboard. With all of the code bs, I'm afraid I'm losing interest and gaining resentment.

    I can't spend the next year+ of my life installing every little thing to abyc standard. I meamn some of jt, yes. But stuff like running individual propane lines ? That's like $700 in copper and stuff. It's going to bankrupt me.

    I can't work a job and build while stupid regulations eat up all my precious time and money.

    Can I just do a regular propane install, then upgrade it later? This is wearing very thin.
  10. Kevin Morin
    Joined: May 2013
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    Location: Kenai, AK

    Kevin Morin Junior Member

    gas tubing and DC wire loom?

    snowbird, I'm not up to speed on regs like Ike, and others so I'm just asking you to explore some ideas before you burn the Cat to the waterline in a friction fire- where you patience rubs so hard against the regs the boat burns up.

    What about exploring plastic tubing? The PEX product will hold try ethylene glycol so propane, another hydrocarbon shouldn't be any big deal? Cross linked poly is use in some underground gas supply systems- not sure if its approved but it does come at less than copper?

    Fittings are hometrainstation type hardware good for a 100 psi test,,, what's a propane evaporant system a few inches water column? Might as well look?

    This may not make too much sense until you get out your scratch pad but I'll give it a go in words. First draw the boat to scale in plan view and never mind the elevations of electrical items like stitch panels, batteries and load like radios or GPS instruments.

    Just locate every thing on a simplified X,Y grid, use graph paper to simplify or CAD if you're versed with that type of tooling.

    NOW... this is what I do (I know longer build commercially but have in the past) to layout a 'loom'. Using colored markers, pencils or other marking tools run a line in 90 deg grids along the sides, turn on to or off of a bulkhead and connect all the wiring loads (user points of DC) to the switch panel.

    That means you'd have one wire running from the switch panel, along the bulkhead to the port side and then forward and a matching wire of another color (how about red and green?) to the other running lights.

    This is all to scale. So when you're done with all these colored wires to the different loads, (you'll need to make sure you have table showing what sized wire can handle any given load in Amps) you'll have most of what you need to make the 'loom' or wire stretch out.

    By recreating this same layout on a set of plywood sheets on horses in the garage, you can use nails in the ply to turn 'corners' in the loom and run scaled distances that will be inside the boat... on the top of the plywood in real dimensions.

    This may sound difficult but if you make the distances that you measured in the boat, into a layout on the plywood? the result will be accurate and the entire bundle can be wrapped and put into the boat.

    What if there is a vertical change? Well add two more nails at that location on the plywood top down layout that are the distance apart of the vertical- voila! you have just added the extra vertical up or down run.

    I used to use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of each conductor, and their turns; where rows (records) are the wires, and the columns (fields) are the turns along the point to point path of each wire/conductor.

    list the conductors by load size (and color) show the route and all the wires that follow a common leg of the many routes, can be wrapped together in wire loom plastic spiral wrap.

    They all run from or to- some or another definable point. So you can measure these routes, record them and make the entire boat's wiring system -with or WITHOUT end terminations in one huge octopus of wires and plastic loom wrap.

    I'm not saying this will happen overnight you have to work to see the concept and work out how to make it in your own shop/garage but... I do know it works flawlessly since I've wired lots of boats and countless industrial control panel this way. The boats usually only had a couple dozen runs, but since they were all metal, they all had DC Neg Returns too. But the industrial looms had as many as 2k conductors and they worked just as well if the measurements and control points were accurate.

    Not sure if I'm any help, but its worth a look?

    Kevin Morin
    Kenai, AK
  11. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    DC negative should be black. Green in reserved for AC ground wires.
  12. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    Kevin? Long time no hear. Good to know you're still lurking.

    What Kevin is talking about is wire bundles and it is a very commonly used way to install wiring. And it is a good way. his method is used in boats, cars and aircraft. All the wire is protected by a loom or other sheath and it helps to avoid unnecessary flexing, strain, and securely attaches it to the boat.

    Take a look at Electrical System Planning It may give you some ideas.

    Also there is a color code for wires. See
  13. waikikin
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    Location: Australia

    waikikin Senior Member

    Is there a way of thinking/install "outside the box", I'm not familiar with your regs & only vaguely with those here in Aus. Can you fit water heater centrally to appropriately drained locker next to gas locker?, on cats this is often to deck locker to fwd area of underwing. Here gas lockers have ventilation & minimum size drain to overboard with ventilation & drain not allowed within 1 meter of hull opening/port etc. & treat other appliances in a similar fashion with "local" bottle placement. When I've lived aboard the BBQ cops a work out, takes heat outside etc, maybe your climate dosen't support this but in interim might work out, gas fridge unit if placed to undercover cockpit area but "legal" placement in regards to hull apetures & drainage might get you up & running. The costs don't look over the top, but it aint my dough. Maybe you can plan for up to code/regulation fitout but do an interim work around, I'd be looking at your rules & finding simplifications that take appliances outside or to overboard draining areas?
  14. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    Exactly, Jeff.

    Our regs are probably very similar. You've described our propane regs well, describing your own.

    Trouble is... anywhere I locate the propane bottles I have a negative.
    If I locate them next to all the appliances, I have a weight distribution problem.
    If I locate them forward or to port (aplliances are starboard in a galley down), I end up with about a $1000 propane system if up to abyc standards.

    I had already built my (up to code) propane locker to port to solve weight distribution issues.

    Then, I read the reg I don't agree with regarding multiple runs of copper... one for each appliance. Since I have to splice the copper to make it long enough to reach the appliances anyway, this is, in my thought process less safe than a main supply line that is T'd off. Because I can at least instantly shut off the main line.

    A thought occurs. I could plan forthe code install but run the single line now while the boat is still being built for the next year or so. Really, it's not done. Just needs to be liveable and mobile while I finish the interior.

    Batteries forward makes sense, but that's 20-30ft from the alternators. The voltage drop may be rough unless i had a pair of trunks down the center of the boat (main line concept for electricity), then tapped off this main DC trunk to get local power where needed.

    Though a main trunk would require several small breaker boxes everywhere.

    This isn't fun.

    Maybe I just need to stick to standard electrical layouts, even if using a loom.

  15. snowbirder

    snowbirder Previous Member

    Or maybe an "almost to code" cheat??

    My propane locker is way over port. I'm running the copper through the aft main box beam cats have.

    This beam is outdoors and has several cutouts open to the deck, which has cockpit drains just like the propane locker. If I sealed the beam off from the galley, it's "outside" the boat. ie: no spot for propane to settle.

    Then, I could run a main line outdoors (but in the beam) all the way to almost inside my aft, starboard galley down.

    I could put a manifold there... outdoors... and run individual supply lines inside the cabin space.

    That meets the spirit of the code, but also solves my problems.

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