Living with Gas Boat Cookers

Gas boat cookers (or stoves) vary enormously in build quality, design quality, durability - and of course, cost. And it can be a risky business, cooking at sea. Where else but on a sailboat would you even contemplate handling boiling liquids and hot metal utensils on a rolling, lurching platform?

Oven doors that fly open, burners that blow out and leak gas, gimbals that don't, grill pans that slide out, pans that leap off the hob (that's 'range' in the US) and parts that corrode and fall apart.

These very real risks can all be avoided in a well designed and constructed boat stove.

But before we get on to the cookers themselves, lets take a look at the all-important installation:

Gas Supply and Boat Cooker Installation

There's no doubt that LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) in either butane or propane form is the most popular fuel and were it not for its explosive nature, the case for it would be overwhelming.

While other fuels - paraffin (kerosene) which sometimes difficult to come by and the much less efficient methylated spirits (alcohol) are inherently safer, a properly designed and installed LPG system will mitigate the safety issues to acceptable levels.

Such a system will incorporate the following features...

  • A dedicated gas bottle locker, ventilated to the atmosphere, draining overboard and sealed from the rest of the vessel. The gas bottles will be firmly secured within it.
  • The regulator will be mounted on the bulkhead within the locker, rather than screwed directly into the bottle. A pair of bottles can then be connected to it via a double manifold and high pressure hose, enabling easy change-over from one bottle to the other.
  • A remotely operated 12v solenoid switch to turn the gas supply off when considered prudent.
  • A bubbler type leak detector (not shown on sketch) to check daily the gas integrity of the installation.
  • A simple manual turn-off tap close to the boat cooker
Force 10 Two-Burner Gimbaled Propane Range, 21H x 18-1/8W x 16-1/2D Overall, 0.49cu.ft. Oven

Gas cookers should ideally be capable of running on either butane or propane.

However, there is a case for a propane set-up for long distance cruisers due to its availability worldwide and its willingness, unlike butane, to operate in freezing conditions.

And whilst, in freezing conditions, the heat generated below by a boat cooker on full song will be appreciated by the crew, it will not be so in the tropics, where 'sweating over a hot stove' becomes more than just a cliché.

So what makes some boat cookers so much better than others?

Safety, practicality and durability are the essential ingredients.

What to look for in Boat Cookers...

Flame Failure Devices

These are thermocouples on gas stoves which will only allow gas to flow to the burner if a minimum temperature is maintained.

They come into play when the flame goes out, maybe as the result of a gust of wind blowing down the companionway, or a liquid boiling over. Within seconds, the burner cools and the gas is shut off.

Without them, gas would continue to flow and, being heavier than air, will accumulate in the bilge where the smallest spark - maybe even from static electricity - could ignite it and cause total destruction of the boat and its occupants.

Flame failure devices on all burners are essential - this is no area to look for cost savings. A cooker that doesn't have them has no place on a sailboat.


This must be adequate for all angles of heel on both tacks, and is largely dependent on where the cooker is located in the galley. On some boats the cooker has almost unlimited swing on one tack but collides with the outboard face of its recess on the other.

If the crash bar in front of the cooker is too close to it, the inboard swing can trap unwary fingers. I know; ours was; it did, twice - until I moved it.

The final length of the supply hose to gas cookers should be flexible armoured hose to protect it from chafing or pinching when the cooker swings, and it should be possible to lock the gimbals to prevent the cooker from swinging unexpectedly when alongside.

Fiddles and Pan Clamps

A sturdy fiddle rail should be permanently fitted in place, together with removable pan clamps for each of the top burners.

Secure Grill (broiler in the US)

The grill pan (or broiler pan) must be retained in place under its burners by a lip or some other device, or your tomatoes, sausages and bacon will quickly find themselves on the galley sole. They're never quite the same after that.

Lockable Oven Door

I once witnessed a fully loaded casserole dish launch itself across the galley - with predictably messy results - when the oven door burst open on a particularly violent roll. We'd been looking forward to that. A lockable oven door lock will prevent this happening.


Solid, corrosion-proof construction, preferably all stainless steel. The cooker should be manufactured with cleaning, maintenance and servicing in mind and be capable of being taken apart and reassembled with little more than a screwdriver.

Next: The Best Location for Boat Cookers

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