As we approach the winter months the evenings may be getting cooler but there can be still plenty of good boating to be had even as the days get shorter. Bright, crisp autumn days can be great for boating but as soon as the sun goes down it can get a little chilly and some sort of heating in the boat cabin can make things decidedly more cosy, and a place that you want to spend time with family and friends.
There is no one size fits all solution for heating a boat. The type and size of boat, budget, and personal preferences all come into play when selecting a heater for your vessel.
For a number of years I had a boat with a diesel fueled hot air system. It was reliable and cheap to operate, although expensive to install initially. If you have forced hot air at home for heat then you will be familiar with this type of system, which operates in an almost identical fashion, albeit on a smaller scale, with flexible ductwork piping hot air to almost every part of the boat. As the boat had a diesel engine, fuel for the heater was simply drawn from from the main tank. The obvious advantage of this was that the heater did not require me a to carry any special, or separate type of fuel.
Another type of heater is the 'Dickenson' type stove. This is a small bulkhead mounted unit with a shippy look, which operates on either Diesel or Kerosene depending on the model, and is well suited to more traditional style boats. Some of these stoves also have a hot plate on top and can do double duty as a cooktop although you would probably not want to use them in the summer for this purpose, as the heat would be inconvenient to say the least.
It is possible to heat your boat with electricity, not a problem if you are plugged in at the dock, but you will need a generator if shore power is not available, often not a convenient solution.
Heating with propane is also possible although the installation has to be to the highest order. Leaking carbon monoxide, a byproduct of the combustion process could poison occupants or a build up of propane in the bilge could potentially cause an explosion. Almost any cabin heater that has a chimney requires a good flow of air for combustion and this has to come from somewhere. If the boat is buttoned up tight initially this air is drawn from the cabin, but if it is not being replaced by air being drawn from outside then the heater will not draw properly, combustion will be incomplete, and the likelihood of high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas are more than likely. Always install a gas sniffer and carbon monoxide detector with this type of heater.
There are even heaters that work on solid fuels such as wood or coal. Although these types of heaters are strictly suited to the traditional style boat they are very efficient and unlike propane and other similar fuels produce a 'dry' heat reducing the amount of moisture introduced into the cabin.
Some owners consider heating their boat as an alternative to winterization, a mistake that could prove costly. A couple of electric heaters may prevent your boat from freezing in the winter months but what if the power goes out? Boats are poorly insulated and temperatures can drop quickly, it only takes a few hours on a cold night and you could end up with a cracked block and a very expensive repair bill.
When it's cold outside the last thing you may think that need is extra ventilation but sit inside a boat cabin with all the doors, windows and hatches closed and things start to get uncomfortable pretty swiftly. Compared to the average home a boat's interior is pretty small, you're also a naturally damp environment. Your clothes might also be damp if you have just come in from being on deck and when you get into a warm cabin that moisture has to go somewhere. Often damp moist air condenses on cold windows and other surfaces and before very long, it's almost as wet inside the cabin as it is outside. Ensuring that there is a cross flow of air in the cabin mitigates most if not all of this condensation. Cracking a hatch forward and another aft can do wonders for preventing the build up of condensation inside the boat. Solar powered vents that are let into hatch covers do a great job of keeping rain out but admit plenty of air below. New models have a battery back up so work even when the sun is not out, at night for instance.
When I have time I like to get down to the workshop as often as possible. I use the term advisedly as my wife would prefer that her car was in the garage, er workshop. That said although it is under the house and not as cold as it could hardly be called toasty in the winter. I do have a selection of heaters and these help a little but do little more than take the chill off when I am actually in there and although I tend to stay warm enough by a combination of heaters and work this is not good for epoxy resins which is a material that I tend to use a fair amount. If the part is small that I am working on then I tend to move it into the basement which is warmer to allow the adhesive to set up, larger sections and projects that cannot be easily moved to tend to be put off until the warmer weather if at all possible. Although the workshop never gets down to freezing which is bad for epoxy the adhesive if very cold is very thixotropic and hard to pump out of the containers. For consistent mixing and to make it easier to handle it pays to keep the unmixed epoxy at consistent warm temperature. I have seen all sorts ideas from using an old fridge or a wooden insulated box with a low wattage light bulb inside which provides sufficient heat to keep the epoxy at a good consistent workable temperature. But I have found a better way, now I just keep the containers of resin and hardener sitting on top of a heating pad. No complicated boxes to build or old fridges to find room for. Turned down to the minim temperature it works a treat. To stop the pad from getting covered in epoxy drips and other crap I keep the pad in a thick plastic bag. The other thing that you can do with the pad that I never thought of is that you can actually move it and assuming that the part I am gluing up is not too large I can actually set down the glued component down on it where the heat will make the epoxy cure nicely with no amine blush. The heating pad that I use cost $15 at Walgreens.
A couple of posts back I wrote about replacing the anode in an on board hot water heater. I seem to have a struck a chord and as I thought many correspondents did not even know that they had an anode in their water heater. Interestingly many water heater manufacturers also keep fairly quiet about the need for replacement anodes on a fairly regular basis presumably because they can make more money selling water heaters than anodes. Unlike the anodes in engine heat exchangers, oil coolers and so forth the anodes in water heaters are magnesium not zinc. There is a lot of chatter on some of the internet forums where 'experts' are telling folks to use zinc which is incorrect. Every water heater that I have ever worked on has a aluminum as a common ingredient on there insides and zinc is too close to aluminum on the galvanic scale to do any good, magnesium is farther down the scale and is less noble than the aluminum which it protects.
Many boats are fitted with six gallon water heaters from the likes of Seaward (shown above) or Force Ten and so on. These compact oblong water heaters do sterling service but DO NOT come supplied with a sacrificial anode as standard so from the very moment that they are installed and filled with water they start to corrode from the insides out. The first thing to pack up is often the heating element and this is often the only indication that something amiss to the boat owner and a new water heater is soon required thereafter. Getting the heater out can be a real bear; often installed in the engine room there is frequently little space to spare. Thankfully there is an answer and that is that you can save yourself a big headache and a ton of cash by installing an anode. The six gallon heaters mentioned above have a drain valve which is great when the time comes to winterize the boat but this can be removed and an anode screwed in in it's place, literally a five minute job. The part number for this is 74556, a 4 inch anode which costs $20 or less from one of the many online retailers – far cheaper and a lot less hassle than having to change the entire water heater. The other benefit of this is that with the anode in place of the tap the anode has to be removed to drain the tank so you can see at a glance how much is eroded and replace it if it is more than 50% gone.
While on the subject of anode protection I changed the pencil anode in the engine heat exchanger last weekend and after 100 hours of running you it's not hard to tell the old from the new replacement. This anode cost me $16 from Boatzincs who offer a vast array of zincs to suit almost any application. Cheap insurance I'd say and if you thought I was whining on a bit about the cost of a replacement water heater I would hate to even contemplate the cost of replacement engine parts if replacing this anode were overlooked.
At the time of writing it is 16 Fahrenheit outside with plenty of snow on the ground so rather than spend a few hours in the workshop I thought it best to update this blog! For most of the year, the workshop which is insulated is a comfy place to work, I have music, often a mug of tea and time passes in a most congenial and agreeable manner. But days like this make it less agreeable and it is hard to get warm and as such the work, assuming that you can actually get stated tends to suffer for it. Work is less productive and if using and sort of adhesive like epoxy then glued joints actually suffer and not make a complete and proper bond.
Up till now I have been trying to warm the place up with electric fan heaters; these do work but warming up the space takes time and if I only want to be down there for an hour or two have to turn on the heaters well in advance to take the chill out of the air. In an effort to address these problems I have decided to install some infrared heating. Available in either gas or electric variants these heaters work in a sense much as flood light does and heats things rather than the surrounding air. Infrared is at the lower end of the light spectrum and is invisible to human eyes but essentially they have 'rays' which when they fall on something tends to heat it up in much the same way that the sun does. That is why when we sit out in the sun we get hot and if we want to cool off we go and sit in the shade. OK so science lesson over.
So with the infrared heater installed things should improve right away. Because we need a direct path for the infrared it is important to install the heaters high on a wall or overhead so there is less chance of things blocking the heater 'beam'. There should be savings on my electric bill too as I shall only need to put the heat on as I need it; switch it on when I enter and turn it off as I leave in much the same way as a light. It is also worth noting that because things are heated with 'light' they are unaffected by the wind so I should still feel warm even with the big door open when I am working on something particularly dusty. The 3000 watt heater shown costs about $500 but it is claimed will heat over 350 square feet. It will be interesting to see how things improve in the workshop.
On the average small boat having sufficient hot water on board always seems to be a problem. Hot water tanks take up a lot of room and have to be heated either from the engine via a closed loop on the fresh water side or from electricity which requires that the vessel is plugged into shore power. If the boat does not have shore power and the motive power is an outboard then heating a hot water tank is not an option and other solutions need to be sought. For making tea, coffee and other hot drinks, doing the dishes and so forth a kettle on the stove works well enough but it does take a some time for the water to get hot and is no good for showers.
In warm weather a solar shower where water is heated in a black plastic bladder hung from the rigging works well but water supply is limited and is useless early in the day or later at night. The other caveat to showering on small boats is that the heads compartment often doubles as a shower and taking even the briefest of showers makes a mess and requires that the head be cleaned up immediately after negating the use of the shower in the first place to some extent. On a small cruiser the best place to take a shower is often the cockpit or aft deck and some boats do indeed have cockpit showers but then again we are back to the old problem of heating the water. One of the portable camping type instantaneous water heaters could be the answer. Only meant for outside use I am sure it would be possible to pull one of these out of a locker when needed connect up to a suitable gas container and enjoy a hot shower. Unlike a fixed installation they are cheap Walmart sells one for $120 which is indeed cheap. They do work well enough but they MUST be used outdoors as they require to be vented into the open air. The other safety concern is with the gas connection but providing the user is careful and follows all normal safety check I don't see a real problem. The other reason for using one of these in the cockpit is that gray water runs out through the drains direct to over-side along with any spilled gas, not that there should be much of that. The best bit is that clean up is a snap unlike taking a shower inside a heads compartment.
One of the great things about surveying boats is that you get to see some neat installations and get to go on boats that you would otherwise never visit. I recently spent some time on a PDQ 32 sailing catamaran and was very impressed by the layout of the boat. I had seen these boats many time before but this was my first time actually on one. The main sitting area which is U shaped is sited around a large table and takes up essentially the whole covered bridge deck area. But it is only when you step down into the hulls that you realise just how much space there is in this boat. Both hulls have a large double aft, forward of this in the starboard hull is a fantastic chart table and navigational area that I just loved. Forward of the chart area is a voluminous shower and heads compartment which is very sensibly finished off in white gel coat so that everything is very easy to clean and keep sanitary. The port hull has the same double berth aft but forward of this is the very large and secure galley which is superb. The space which is occupied by the head in the starboard cabin is sealed off from the rest of the boat in the port hull and contains the gas bottle stowage and tons of space for fenders, spare anchors and anything else you might need for a couple of weeks away from the dock. One of the standard fitments in the galley was this Bosch W125 instantaneous water heater which was very unobtrusive and highly efficient. What Ilike about these heaters is that they only supply water as needed and providing you don't run out of water from the main tank will keep hot water flowing for as long as the faucet is open. I remember we had one of these heaters on a boat when I did an Atlantic crossing with some friends, we replenished the water tanks from a water maker, we had plenty of propane so we were able to take hot showers every three days which was pure luxury. While the calorifier style water heaters that have an electric element in them are great they only heat up on average 6 gallons of water when the generator or engine is running or you are plugged into shore power. I know that there are concerns over the safety of propane but none than would be the case if you already use it for cooking so providing you take reasonable precautions and the system is correctly installed and plumbed in then I think that this Bosch heater is a very cost effective alternative to producing hot water.
With the colder weather comes times when I will be locked away in the workshop sanding some part or scraping some varnish or paint. Almost every project seems to generate at least some dust which can be both annoying and at times dangerous to your health. Keeping dust under control is a major concern to me not least because I don't want to breath it in and I don't want airborne dust to settle on every shelf in sight.
There are a ton of fairly expensive electrostatic air cleaners on the market which do a pretty good job - at a price. My solution is to use a cheap $25 box fan from Walmart and tape a suitable furnace filter to one side of the fan as shown above. Note however that the filter should be attached to the 'suck' side of the fan. The filters last a fairly long time if you vacuum them once a day with the shop vac. Because the fan is light weight you can move it close to the work area but remember they you may still need to use a face mask to protect yourself.
For the past couple of years now I have been going back and forth in my mind as to the best way to construct the boom tent for Mallard my gaff cutter. I have kind of figured it out and have even made a pattern out of Tyvek which as it turns out is ideal for making patterns for canvas work, but up to this point have been nervous about cutting into the expensive Sunbrella fabric. I do know that I want the tent to look 'proper' and not like some limp rag that hangs over the boat so I have decided to call in the experts. One of the firms that I had a discussion with at the Maine Boat Builders show was Mobile Marine Canvas who are well versed in all manner of marine canvas and who reassured me no end that what I was trying achieve was indeed possible and that they would be pleased to help me out. Normally I farm out very little work to others preferring to do everything myself but I know when I am beat and this is one of those times.
Incidentally that's me in the middle talking to the folks from Mobile Marine Canvas and if you are wondering why you can see a bit of a reflection it is because the picture is shot through a dodger which is glazed with EZ2CY panels. As someone who grew up with thin plastic windows in dodgers that soon turned to a yellow haze these enclosures area revelation. Stiff and nearly optically perfect they would make a fantastic combination fabric and window combo on almost any boat and in fact are now being used as standard equipment on the MJM 40.
A good tip for keeping the boat smelling sweet and odor free is to place a small open bucket of BBQ charcoal briquettes in the bilge or other area which has a malodorous odor. The charcoal will absorb the pong and keep the boat smelling nice. Best of all when the charcoal looses it's capacity for absorbing smells simply replace it and use the old stuff on the grill.
In my last post I mentioned the need for ventilation for shrink wrapped boats. Without it mold will develop and it will not do the boat any good whatsoever. Think of a shrink wrapped boat as a big sealed in green house. As the sun warms the cover it causes any moisture under the cover to be absorbed into the atmosphere then as the sun goes down and the cover cools the still warm air condenses on the inside of the shrink wrap and drips back onto the boat. As it is impossible to shrink wrap a boat without trapping some moisture inside a good amount of ventilation will defeat this condense/drip cycle and allow the air to reach equilibrium thus mitigating problems to a large extent.
At the time that the boat is shrink wrapped it makes a lot of sense therefore to incorporate some sort of ventilation. Costing just $6 a piece these wind cup forced ventilation systems from Dr Shrink could solve many problems. Attached to the outside of the cover these cups which drive a small fan on the inside and duct air through the cover should go a long way to preventing moisture problems. For areas where there is a lot of sun but little to no wind solar powered versions are available.