Can You Use a Portable Generator on a Boat?


Portable Generators are backup power devices used in emergencies. But many people would like to have a portable generator onboard on their boat to have an off-grid power supply option.

It sounds like a logical and good idea but using a portable generator on a boat could pose some risks as discussed below. 

So, if you plan to use them, make sure you have given these a good thought –

Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning problem

CO is a poison gas that has the potential to kill people in a few minutes when they are exposed to it. If not, it will leave you with serious health problems.

If you don’t have a proper ventilation system for your portable unit, the engine could not breathe properly, and the gas fumes are trapped in which could result in the accumulation of CO in deadly amounts.

Petrol-based units are also recorded to emit high amounts of CO.

Always make sure you don’t run the generator unit near the doors, windows, vents or hatches on the bank or aboard.

Make sure your boat has a good ventilation system.

It’s preferable to run your anchored boat’s generator unit in the aft position as the wind carries away the carbon monoxide. A swim platform is another good space to place your generator.

You should be trained to recognize CO poisoning as early as possible and be prepared regarding what to do if anyone board is a victim of CO poisoning.

You must watch out for signs, if you could smell exhaust fumes in the boat, it means dangerous CO is seeping inside the cabin.

Fire and Explosion Risk

There were many incidents of wrecked boats and wounded people because of fire and explosions on boats.

This can mainly occur due to the unchecked leakage of fuel from the generator or improper handling of petrol.

Poor cabling practices and loose connections or cords could also result in a fire outbreak which is very hard to control especially if the boat is away from the landmass.

Always check for fuel leaks and damp patches before starting your generator. Placement of the generator is important too to allow the fumes to escape in case of a fire outbreak.

You should never refuel your generator while it is on the boat as there might any potential sources of ignition around. Always refuel your generator after taking it out.

All the fuel containers must be stored safely away from sources of ignition. When it comes to storage, never install the generator unit permanently on the boat. Instead, store the portable unit in a dry case if you are not using it.

Make sure the case is free of any tools, anchors, mooring pins, or petrol cans to prevent sparks that could lead to a fire outbreak.

Electrocution Danger

The high voltage generator system should be operated with necessary precaution otherwise there is a high chance of electrocution.

Always make sure the boat is fed by only one power supply at a time. A switchover system should be employed for safety.

Refrain from using a domestic type plug at the end of the cable to connect the generator and the sockets inside the boat.

They present a high risk of electrocution at the other end of the cable when the portable unit is running.

Make sure you don’t do any unauthorized connections or modifications to the portable generators to avoid electrocution.

Running the generator onboard involves dealing with water and a wet environment.

You have to take appropriate precautions to protect the generator from getting wet during its run. Covering the parts, using a cowling, rubber mounts are some good ideas.

Unless you are using the portable generator near the dock when the boat is still, it is not recommended that you use it when the boat is on the run in a wet environment which only aggravates all the above-discussed problems.

About Christopher Hall

Chris has been writing on automotive topics for more than five years now. He works with a custom car-making firm. Car racing is his no.1 passion and he's been doing it ever since he was 16 years old. He loves to take care of cars and enjoys reading all about them, while also always looking forward to the next race.