My cutter-rigged sloop had undergone an extensive refit. Prior to re-launching the boat, I wanted the gas system to be checked and certified as safe. Having researched -approved dealers I contacted a company, who agreed to install a gas cut-off tap by the stove, to check the gas system and issue a safety certificate. A Fitter attended and duly carried out the work. I subsequently met with the installer who noted that the water heater was unsafe and that the gas locker needed to be sealed, I sought advice on how I could remedy these shortfalls in accordance with the European Pleasure Craft Directive and professed myself to be happy; due to the inadequacies with other parts of the system, the cooker was not checked.
I settled the invoice and was subsequently in receipt of the Gas Safety Inspection Certificate. On a subsequent visit to the boat, whilst conducting other work, I decided to check the cooker and have a cup of coffee. Having removed gas bottles from the gas locker and placed on the counter in order that no gas could escape into the bilges and ensured that the water heater was isolated from the system and turned off, I lit the cooker and boiled the kettle. Intending to use the cooker later, I turned the gas supply off at the newly installed tap, once the gas in the line had been exhausted, the flame extinguished and I turned off the flame control at the cooker. At this stage, I did not turn off the supply of gas from the bottle and would not expect to do so on every occasion when using the cooker through the day whilst cruising. Shortly afterwards, in the process of conducting other work, I heard a hissing sound and soon established that there was an obvious leak within the system, which, in my opinion was as a result of the work that had been carried out.
I contacted the company to tell them, and was subsequently reassured that it had been resolved; on checking at a later date, I was able to ascertain that it had not. The Company was invited to re-investigate in my absence. They apparently did so, but when I subsequently returned to the vessel the gas leak remained unresolved.
My intention is to make you aware of the key facts, which I believe, can be summarised as follows:
- Work not completed to the required safety standards – unsatisfactory from a CORGI Registered Gas Installer.
- Gas leak discovered by owner more by luck – an alternative scenario resulting in serious personal injury and destruction of the vessel is not hard to imagine.
- System was repeatedly declared as safe despite the leak having brought to the attention of the company on two separate occasions.
This incident clearly involves, poor individual performance resulting in errors, poor operating procedures and unsafe practice.
As this report involved a CORGI registered installer, the reporter was advised to contact CORGI directly. A complaints hotline is available on 0870 401 2300.
Gas safety on small craft is important and it is worth outlining some of the applicable regulations. For craft on inland waterways the Boat Safety Scheme provides information on various safety aspects, including gas installation inspection and certification. They have a very useful web-site at www.boatsafetyscheme.com.
Post1998 craft have to comply with the Recreational Craft Directive, which includes gas systems, so a significant number of leisure craft are affected. The Directive states:
“5.5 Gas system
Gas systems for domestic use shall be of the vapour-withdrawal type and shall be designed and installed so as to avoid leaks and the risk of explosion and be capable of being tested for leaks.
Materials and components shall be suitable for the specific gas used to withstand the stresses and exposures found in the marine environment.
Each appliance shall be equipped with a flame failure device effective on all burners. Each gas- consuming appliance must be supplied by a separate branch of the distribution system, and each appliance must be controlled by a separate closing device. Adequate ventilation must be provided to prevent hazards from leaks and products of combustion.
All craft with a permanently installed gas system shall be fitted with an enclosure to contain all gas cylinders. The enclosure shall be separated from the living quarters, accessible only from the outside and ventilated to the outside so that any escaping gas drains overboard. Any permanent gas system shall be tested after installation.”
For craft older than 1998 that are not CE marked and not operating in inland waterways there are currently no requirements, however owners of such craft would be well advised to ensure their craft meet the requirements of the Directive as closely as practicable and also to ensure gas installations are checked regularly by a qualified person.