4 Portable Generator Safety Tips
Look on any boating forum at the subject of using portable generators with boats and you'll see that opinions are divided. Proponents say portable generators offer smaller boat owners the luxury of electrical power, while detractors say portable generators are deathtraps.
Yes, a portable generator can provide onboard electrical power for boats too small to have a marine genset installed. But if used incorrectly, a portable generator poses severe safety risks. When used diligently, however, a portable generator is safe to operate on a boat. Anyone using a portable generator on their watercraft should follow these simple rules.
1. Only Use a Portable Generator Outdoors
Never use a portable generator within an enclosed space, which includes a boat's cabin or any area below deck. A portable generator's gas-powered engine creates poisonous carbon monoxide gas that can kill within minutes of exposure in an enclosed environment.
Portable generators must always be kept above deck in a well-ventilated area when active, several yards away from people. The generator should be placed away from the boat and downwind of any open hatches or portholes while the boat is moored.
2. Beware of Boat Generator Fire Hazards
Always be mindful of the risk of fire when using a portable generator. Whenever there's a combination of gasoline, a hot engine and an exhaust system, there's the potential for fire. Any marine generator should be ignition protected to prevent the unit from generating sparks.
Also, make sure your generator is fitted with a spark arrester to prevent unburned fuel or any other flammable debris from igniting in the exhaust. Use extreme care when refueling a portable generator. Never refuel it until the motor has been shut off and cooled down for several minutes. And always have fire extinguishers on board, regardless of whether you operate a portable generator or not.
3. Don't Let the Generator Get Wet
We all know that water and electricity don't mix, and this is especially true in regards to a boat generator. Never run a portable generator in the rain, because water can lead to severe electric shock.
Don't attempt to switch on a wet generator, and make sure it's completely dry before touching or starting it. Water can also damage the generator itself, so again, don't allow the generator to get wet. Make sure it's placed in a part of the boat that allows it to stay dry, even in rough waters.
4. Switch Off the Boat Generator While in Motion
Never run a portable generator while the boat is in motion. The risk of fuel leaks and spillages are too great while the boat is sailing, and the chance of water splashing or spraying the generator also increase. Don't run a portable generator unless you're anchored or docked.
Follow these rules and use a portable marine generator responsibly. If you have any doubts or feel uncomfortable using a portable generator on your boat, trust your instincts and don't use one at all.