The heat goes on…

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.

Proper heat makes winter cruising enjoyable.
Proper heat makes winter cruising enjoyable.

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.

Our electric heater emits quite a bit of heat for its size.
Our electric heater emits quite a bit of heat for its size.

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.

A quality dehumidifier is a must while living aboard in the winter.
A quality dehumidifier is a must while living aboard 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.

At Anchor

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.

Without our diesel heater keeping the boat warm and dry while we're on anchor, winter cruising would be much harder.
Without our diesel heater keeping the boat warm and dry while we’re at anchor, winter cruising would be much harder.

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.

Our oil lamp gives the cabin a traditional look and soft glow of heat.
Our oil lamp gives the cabin a traditional look and soft glow of heat.

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.

The Mr. Buddy propane heater is great for warming the boat quickly.
The Mr. Buddy propane heater is great for warming the boat quickly.

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.

Our hydronic heater makes all the difference when the engine is running.
Our hydronic heater makes all the difference when the engine is running.

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”.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share far and wide! 

14 thoughts on “The heat goes on…

  1. I and quite a few of my friends have the EcoSeb dehumidifier which is wonderful. I also like the ‘clothes drying’ setting for drying out wet foulies in a hurry. I highly recommend it.

  2. Thanks Andy!

    The EcoSeb looks similar to the EvaDry 4000 I use, a desiccant dehumidifier, while 110v are available. The EvaDry has a couple of smaller units able to run off 12v.

    Do you have condensation while on the hook or does the Sigmar handle it?

    1. We have some condensation while on the hook because we usually don’t sleep with the Sigmar running all night. Once we fire it up in the morning, though, it sucks the moisture right up.

  3. Be careful when using portable heaters on a boat. Three National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire codes specifically prohibit the use of portable heaters on un-attended boats. One of the codes has been adopted as the state fire code in many states. Also keep in mind that the close quarters of a boat may find these heaters too close to furniture and other combustibles. …and it goes without saying that working smoke alarms should be installed. and maintained aboard all boats with accommodation spaces.

  4. On Julie May, a converted 42′ fish boat, we use three oil filled heaters and also have a Sigmar 180. So nice to see another one.
    The Sigmar goes on when the temp drops below 0 C. And along with the electric heaters keeps us pretty comfortable. Obviously, we can only use the electric heaters when at the dock and plugged into 30 amps. When anchored out we were only depending on the Sigmar, and not really staying warm.
    So, we have been considering installing some form of hydronic heating. A close friend just bought a beautiful old Grand Banks Alaskan which has a Kabola heating system. It keeps them quiet comfortable. Investigating that costs of installing a similar system on JM topped out at around $10k. So much for that idea.
    Then one night it dawned on us that we could just fire up our (newly upgraded) gen set and turn on the electric heaters. Dah. Doesn’t use any more diesel than the Kabola would have. And now we are comfortable any where any time.
    With regard to using electric heaters, I would only allow ones without radiant heat coils on the boat. So the oil filled heaters are best. We also have installed 2 smoke alarms as well.

  5. This is my first winter living aboard full time. I was concerned that my heating bill would be quite high (living on a tight budget) so I was reluctant to turn the heat up too much until I got my first bill. As a result I just staved off the freezing for the first month with an electric West Marine portable heater. I also was getting a fair amount of condensation in the boat. So I bought an Ivation dehumidifier and also changed from the West Marine portable heater to a Pelonis brand oil filled radiator style heater from Walmart. Initially this raised the heat in the boat significantly while using less electricity. But the dehumidifier only accumulated a couple tablespoons of water while my condensation problem cleared up completely. I then bought a second Pelonis radiator. My Ivation dehumidifier shows the humidity level inside the boat is between 35% and 40%. I’ve now been running it for 6 weeks and just emptied the accumulated water for the first time. In that time it only took 3 tablespoons of water out of the air. I have no condensation inside the boat even though the outside humidity is 80%-90%.
    I’m sold on the Pelonis oil filled radiator style heater.

  6. Andy…our dehumidifier just packed it in and remembered this blog post. Are you still happy with your unit? I am about to hit order om…but thought I would see if you still recommend that one…not cheap at over $600 can

  7. Hi Sue,
    We are definitely still happy with the EcoSeb DD122EA-Simple — it does a great job! We got ours for a little under $200, which should still be the going rate.

    1. Yes I was surprised at the price…but it was in Canadian dollars. We read all the reviews and in the end went with a Frigidaire one at half the price. Was interesting to read the poor reviews of the Ecoseb company’s poor customer service with regards to warranty…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *