Should gas lockers be locked?

Published: Friday, 30 June 2017

WITH doubts being raised by various contributors about  gas lockers being padlocked or left unlocked we contacted the fire people with a representative telling us that quick means to turn off the gas must be available in the case of fire. We then received information from a long standing BSS examiner:

While I fully understand the general principles expressed by your fire fighters, applied common sense and the real-world rarely meet in the middle, writes Graham Freeman.

Doesn't impede

Speaking as a BSS Examiner (all views expressed in this email are personal and not those of the Scheme), the ‘LPG locker accessible on the day of the Examination’ stance makes sense for two reasons; it doesn’t impede the Examination and, of possibly more importance to CaRT legal, doesn’t place the Navigation Authority in a position where it can be accused of laying a boat open to theft of LPG locker contents by insisting such lockers are never locked.

On the flip side, the argument posed by your fire fighters also has credence—denying a fire a (possible) source of fuel is common sense so having a label to indicate where the ECV (emergency control valve) is located is a good place to start. Remember that for cylinder mounted regulators, the ECV is the cylinder valve itself.

Practical perspective

From the practical perspective, here’s a different view from my local Fire & Rescue Service who I periodically brief on boat configurations etc. If they find an LPG locker secured on arriving at an incident (or can’t physically get to it because of the fire) they simply assign a hose to play water on the locker metalwork (knowing beforehand of the typical locations of LPG lockers (forepeak for trad and semi-trad, aft deck for cruiser sterns and, in some cases, ‘open’ cylinder frames on GRP cruiser transoms).

Their total focus is to save life and, when assured that nobody remains aboard, they try (in most cases) to release the craft from its moorings and push it out into clear water (to minimise risk to other boats/property) while continuing to fight the fire/keep the LPG locker/visible cylinders cool. The (almost inevitable) outcome is a sunken boat which then becomes an insurance issue.

Copper survives well

In my experience of doing (post fire) insurance work , it is interesting to note that the LPG copper pipework in the cabin survives well and this is helped by the fact that all joints are compression as opposed to soldered (which is part of the reason why soldered joints are taboo in marine LPG pipework). Where flexible hoses are found, they tend to be protected from direct contact with flame as they are normally located behind appliances or within cupboard/galley units enclosures.

When recovering what is left of the boat, caution has to be employed and it is not unusual to find the LPG system intact and still holding gas! In such circumstances, the padlock on the LPG locker lid is dealt with by a pair of trusty bolt-cutters, the cylinder valve is turned off and the regulator/pigtail disconnected. The cylinder is then prominently marked that it has been subjected to fire and is returned for disposal via an authorised LPG supplier.