My recent posts about being back out for another winter of cruising in the Pacific Northwest, coupled with the cooler temperatures we’ve experienced this season, sparked some questions about what we use to warm the boat.
Before embarking on our first winter of full-time cruising in the Salish Sea, we made sure to have numerous heating options in place and what we ended up with is a redundancy that allows us to keep the boat cozy whether we’re at a dock, anchored out or underway. The heaters we employ to achieve this include an oil lamp, diesel fireplace, electric space heater, propane heater, hydronic space heater and dehumidifier.
Here’s how all our heat sources work in concert to keep the crew of Yahtzee warm.
At the dock
When we’re plugged into a dock, which this time of year is a couple nights a week, we have an electric space heater that we run in the main cabin to warm the boat. We’ve gone through various types of these over the years and recently purchased a portable cabin heater from West Marine in Friday Harbor. So far it has worked quite well, is quiet, doesn’t draw a lot of power and has three heat settings. In the past we’ve had similar fan heaters and ceramic type heaters that were sufficient for heating the boat, too.
A great compliment to our space heater is a dehumidifier. It does an admiral job of reducing condensation in the boat and takes the cold, moist air out and replaces it with warm, dry air. We recently switched from a large dehumidifier designed for home use with the smaller and lighter Ecoseb DD122EA Simple. Compared to the old unit, the Ecoseb is far more compact, which is perfect for storing when not in use, and it extracts up to 15 pints of moisture at cold temperatures — exactly what you want on a boat in the winter.
Between these two units, Yahtzee generally stays warm enough in the winter during the day and night. But to compliment them, we will also turn on our DHR Clipper Lamp, which throws off an admirable amount of heat in the salon and provides a nice ambiance. And in the rare occasion that temperatures dip into the 20s, we don’t hesitate to fire up the Mr. Buddy propane heater for 15 to 20 minutes to take the chill out of the air. Or to light our Sigmar 180 diesel heater to really warm the whole boat.
When we’re swinging at anchor, on a mooring or are at a marine park dock with no power, we just have the diesel heater, oil lamp and propane heater for warmth. This is where the Sigmar really shines. It came with the boat and took a bit of time to revamp and learn how to use, but now that we’ve got it dialed, it throws off a ton of heat, uses very little fuel and is easy to light. Also, with 12v electric fans in each cabin and the galley, we can move the heat around the boat so that it’s not concentrated solely in the main salon.
The coldest temperature we’ve seen while at anchor was 17 degrees and the diesel heater kept the boat at 65 degrees — not too shabby. Fortunately, it’s rarely that cold and with average lows in the mid to upper 30s, it’s more than adequate. The only drawback to diesel is that it tends to throw little black balls of soot on deck that streak and generally make a mess. But if that’s the price we have to pay for warmth, we’ll take it.
Besides the diesel heater, we also use the oil lamp in the mornings and evenings for light and heat, and the Mr. Buddy sometimes makes appearances in the morning while we’re firing up the Sigmar.
Note: We try not to run the propane heater very long because it creates condensation and should be used in well ventilated areas. Also, we’re often asked if we run the diesel heater at night — we have, but don’t do it on a regular basis.
When we have the engine on and are moving from one anchorage to another, our main option is to use our REAL hydronic heater that we got at Sure Marine in Seattle. This little heater circulates the hot coolant from our engine and then a fan blows across the coils to give off a steady stream of heat. It’s flat out awesome.
While sailing, we’ve used the diesel heater before but do so rarely. In the winter, we’re usually not sailing great distances and are bundled up to be outside, so having the boat a little cooler isn’t too much of a problem.
If you have any more questions about how we stay warm during the winter, please feel free to ask in the comments below. Stay warm out there!
Title inspiration thanks to the Talking Heads “Born Under Punches”.