Generator Safety for Boaters

There are three critical risks linked to using generators that boaters must know about and manage if they are to keep themselves and other people safe from being poisoned, being electrocuted and avoiding fire.

Generator 3 Risk Warning 270X285For some boaters wanting off-grid electrical power means that they see portable generators as the only option, but if the risks that come with their use are not fully appreciated deaths, injuries and loss of property can and has happened

Carbon monoxide (CO) – generators especially petrol ones can produce extremely high levels of CO, a poison gas that can kill in minutes or leave survivors with long term critical health effects. However diesel engine exhausts have also been linked to illness and CO deaths

Fire & explosion – the mishandling of petrol and leaking fuel from generators have resulted in spectacular incidents and that have seriously injured people and wrecked boats.

Generator In Hatch WFRS 270X270

Also the use of poor cabling and connectors can also introduce just as real although possibly less obvious fire hazards.

Electrocution – any 230 V AC system can be a killer and must be given

proper respect and precautions should be taken to guard against shocks.

These are the core points that should never be forgotten.

  • Never install a portable generator permanently or make unauthorised modifications that are not supported by the manufacturer, or proprietary component supplier.
  • Never run generators on the boat, or on the bank near to doors, vents, windows and hatches. If you can smell exhaust fumes in the boat, it could mean the cabin is also filling with deadly carbon monoxide.
  • Never refuel any generator anywhere aboard the boat; take it to the bank and ensure you are a safe distance from other boats and potential sources of ignition.

However, make sure you are keeping to any marina or mooring-owner guidance and rules on the use of generators, refuelling and the handling of petrol on their sites.

 Petrol Can Sml

Stowage of generators that have integral fuel tanks containing petrol and spare fuel cans

  • in a self-draining, vapour-tight and fire-resistant locker, or
  • on open deck, but never over or near deck boards where, if leak occurs, dripping petrol or stray vapours could find their way through into the boat’s interior.
  • Petrol cans and spare fuel containers should be stored away from any source of ignition, ideally in dedicated drained lockers, where any escaping petrol fuel and/or vapours will flow overboard and dissipate safely.
  • Take care to protect petrol containers; any that are subject to impacts, dropped or generally treated roughly could start leaking.
  • Don’t store tools, anchors, mooring pins or other items in the same locker that could cause sparks, damage the petrol containers or block the drains.

More details here


Some further points electrical  safety to consider

Make sure the boats 230 V system cannot be fed by more than one power supply source at any one time (for example, shore supply, on-board generator, inverter) - a switchover system should be used.

Never use a domestic type plug on each end of a cable to connect between an inverter or generator and the boat's domestic sockets. With the inverter/generator operating and the cable plugged in to it, the plug pins at the other end of the cable would be live and present a high risk of electrocution.

If you run a generator on-board - to be protected by an RCD, a connection must be made between the boat's protective earth terminal and any generator earth terminal.

See more 230 V electrical safety advice here

CO Symbol 270X270

Carbon monoxide kills boaters

  • Considerate neighbours will avoid running generators close to other boats and facilities in crowded marinas, particularly when the air is still.
  • Boaters should be able to recognise early symptoms of CO poisoning are and what to do if anyone suspects that people aboard may be suffering the effects of this gas

More carbon monoxide safety advice here

Would all your crew know how to spot early signs of CO problems?

CO Symptoms All BW

 Fuel 270x270

Refuelling specifically

  • Before running a portable generator, check the area where it was stored for any damp patches or other signs of leaked fuel
  • Also look for other tell-tale signs of ‘fuel’ dampness on the machine especially around visible connections, hoses and fuel components
  • Portable fuel system components will not last forever and frequent connection and re-connection will take its toll. Expect to replace tired and damaged items with suitable proprietary components as part of your routine maintenance regime.
  • If fuel consumption rises unexpectedly, don’t ignore it; maintenance could be required and it could be indicating a fuel leak.
  • Remember that on hot sunny days, or where the container is warmer than the surrounding air, more petrol vapour may be released under pressure when you undo the cap or seal.
  • Never use any bowl, bucket or other open container to carry or transfer petrol.

More details here