4 Safety Tips for Using a Portable Generator on a Boat

Look on any boating forum at the subject of using portable generators with boats and you'll see that opinions are divided. 

portable boat generator

Proponents say portable generators offer smaller boat owners the luxury of electrical power they otherwise couldn't get, while detractors say portable generators are deathtraps that shouldn't be brought within 100 paces of a boat! 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. However, when used diligently, 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

You should never use a portable generator within an enclosed space, which includes a boat's cabin or any area below deck. 

boat generator docked

A portable generator's gas-powered engine creates extremely 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. 

portable boat generator safety fire hazard

Whenever there is a combination of gasoline, a hot engine and an exhaust system, there is the potential for fire. Any generator you use on a boat should be ignition protected, which prevents the unit from generating sparks that could ignite gasoline. Also, make sure your generator is fitted with a spark arrestor 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. Always have fire extinguishers on board, regardless of whether you operate a portable generator or not! 

3. Don't Let the Marine Generator Get Wet

We all know that water and electricity don't mix, and this is especially true in regards to a boat generator. 

portable generator electrical hazard

Never run a portable generator in the rain, because water can lead to severe electric shock. Do not attempt to switch on a wet generator, and ensure it's completely dry before touching it or trying to start 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 will allow it to stay dry, even in rough waters.

4. Switch Off Boat Generator While in Motion

Never run a portable generator while the boat is in motion. 

boat generator safety 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 moored. In fact, there should be no reason to operate a portable generator while running the boat's engine because it provides power to the electrical systems. 

If you follow these rules and use the portable generator responsibly, you shouldn't encounter any problems. However, 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! 

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