Long Awaited Project

James and I have been living on this boat for nearly two years.  We know it pretty damn well, and there aren’t too many problems we haven’t fixed, created a plan for fixing, or decided to live with.  One of the few real irritants has been our oven.

A marine propane stove/oven is a fairly simple creature – but it’s so important that things be done right.  For one thing, you can die many horrible deaths if things are done incorrectly.  For another thing, they’re expensive beasts – running over a thousand for an updated version of the model I have – so mistakes can be costly.  Even smallish parts are usually over a hundred dollars.  For yet another thing – death?

So yeah.

Our oven has never worked.  The stove works great – all three burners – and we have just used the stove for the last two years.  Actually – these horribly hot summers have been mostly cooking-free, but still.

I found this troubleshooting guide online, by a Seattle company – go Seattle boating community! – and found it pretty clear.  There’s propane coming in to the oven knob.  When turned to “Pilot”, it allows propane to flow through one copper tube to the pilot light, at which point I can light the gas with a long-nosed lighter.  All good.  When turned to any temperature other than pilot, it allows more propane to flow, creating a “high” pilot.  This flame should now heat a sensing probe that is connected to a mercury control valve.  Registering heat, the valve opens and allows propane to flow into the entire burner and heat the oven.  This valve keeps propane from flowing when there’s no pilot – a safety measure so that you don’t get explosive gasses flowing through the bilges when the pilot is blown out for some reason.

Bottom line – I had a low pilot, a high pilot, but no burner flame.  Holding the lighter directly under the mercury control valve’s sensor probe did nothing – not even when the probe was glowing red hot.  That’s supposed to mean it’s the mercury control valve that’s bad.

But their website specified over and over that this valve almost never goes out and that people buy the wrong thing more often than not when they think it’s the valve that needs to be replaced.  I let this go all last winter.  An entire (chock-full of dead-poor and super-busy) winter without biscuits and gravy or pizza aboard.  Sadness!

With the nice long fall, I only now thought of diving in.  Turns out our valve cost $160 (plus a core charge that will be returned when I send back the old one – mercury is toxic, after all).  So now I’ve invested in a winter of eating on the boat…wonder if the math will be in our favor?

So finally it arrives.  James and I removed the old valve, only to find that they sent us the wrong attachment bits.

The attachments we needed on the top and the wrong ones on the bottom

The mercury control valve is on the left and the attachment bits are on the right.  The top two are from our old valve and the bottom two are the ones sent by Sure Marine.  Looking back at their troubleshooting guide, those are the parts for ovens with the valve near the temp knob rather than in the oven wall like ours.  No problem – we’ll just reuse our own bits!

Here’s the oven without the valve:

Oven wall with the valve removed

And the valve assembly. with the sensor probe dangling at the end of its wire:

This was the problem part - the mercury control valve

I got the new valve installed – James had to go to work…

This is the burner assembly - which I'd never seen with flame

And then…I lit it up.

The first flame this burner has seen in a really long time

And the final good news:

The old thermometer registers heat!

Now for the “perfectly honest” part.  This last photo shows success, right?  Well, it was a good step – definitely moving in the right direction.  But it took a lot more fiddling around to get the thing to work right.  It would come on fine, but when it thought it was up to temp, it would shut off.  Perfect – just like it was supposed to.  But it wouldn’t come back on when it cooled down a bit.  Sigh.  I worked on it another few hours (testing while doing other things, mostly) and now it’s working well.  I had to change the angle of the pilot and clean the pilot orifice (am I the only person who thinks that orifice is a sexy word?).  Also, the thermostat you see in the pic above doesn’t match the temp knob for the oven – there’s almost 100 degree difference – but James is going to stop at the store for a new thermostat and some…


Gravy, green eggs, and biscuits

Happy Dena eats of the fist fruits of her labors



  1. So many people hesitate and never learn what they can do if they will only try. Start working on a project/problem and sometimes you learn as you go but most things can be taken care of if you’re willing to try.
    I always liked that about you guys, you’re willing to try and can handle almost anything.

  2. Thanks and as long as I can get some traction, I’m off and running on just about anything. Casting about for information is sometimes the longest part of a project! Oh, or finishing one, which is the frustration I’m experiencing with the new settee cabinet – all the finish work will take 10 times as long as the construction!

  3. Sorry to be corny, but this story made me feel all warm inside. (*ducks*) My mercury control valve’s sensor probe could definitely use some tinkering, too, when you have a moment. At least my pilot orifice is clean. Mm, biscuits!

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