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The cooler winter months are back again and if you are planning to extend your boating season until they are over, you had better switch to “cold mode”. Let us therefore look at what are the best heating options for dinette and cabins and the most popular heating systems for a comfortable boat even in winter unless you prefer shivering or risk a bronchitis cuddled up in your sleeping bag!

Hull dimensions, available budget and division of the interior space are important parameters when choosing a boat heating system. Hot-air heating systems, namely by far the most efficient, effective and practical (and safe) option, are installed in most of medium-large sized boats, i.e. from 38-40-foot. The best-known and most popular ones are Webasto, named after the multinational German leader in the automotive heating sector (from campers to trucks) and a reference also in the marine sector and Eberspacher, also a German brand. Hot-air systems are provided with a central diesel burner or a burner directly fed by the boat tank, take in air from outside, warm and convey it below deck through ducts and couplings by means of a fan.

The systems offer many pros: they are safe, reasonably silent, low-consumption, they do not need an extra tank and above all operate autonomously. This means the heating system can make a boat warm even in a roadstead or during navigation. No need to be connected to a charging column in a marina dock to operate electrical heating systems. Moreover, hot-air conveyors provide an immediate feeling of comfort. Installation is quite easy provided that there is room enough for air ducts below deck. A space-saving burner is usually installed in a peak outside or in the engine box. Different models are available according to the space area to be heated, even on 15-foot boats.   

A user-friendly control panel – similar to a common thermostat – makes it simple to start the system and set temperature. However, more sophisticated models with timer, remote control and other functions are available on the market. They also provide air conditioning, which is an indisputable advantage. The only drawback, if we want to call it so, is its cost. Bigger boats are usually provided with hot water heating systems directly by the shipyards. These are similar to the systems installed in buildings, where water is heated by a boiler and circulated throughout the area to be heated by means of pipes that heats radiators. The system provides long lasting warm comfort, yet due to its costs and dimensions, it is only for the privileged few.

However, enjoying the sea in winter does not necessarily require huge investments. It is a well-known practice among yachtsmen to get along spending the least. There are other heating options, of course, but they require the boat to be connected to a charging column unless a generator is available on board. The most popular is no doubt the oil filled radiator, often used together with a common dry stove. They are perfect to heat boats up to 8-9 metres long. The dry stove provides a warm feeling in a few minutes, followed by the long lasting and constant heat given by the radiator. The pros are remarkable: reduced costs (few dozens of Euros), excellent radiator safety standards (remember that the stove incandescent resistances have to be constantly checked), temperature setting possibility. Drawbacks: radiator space requirements in small boats and connection to a charging column. Moving to electric air heaters, structural systems of a higher technological level are available. They are suitable both as air cooling systems or heaters, such as COMPACT direct expansion air conditioning system (osculati.com), 220V.

Those who want at all cost to spend a night in a roadstead in the middle of winter without the noise of a generator and without investing a huge amount of money, have to rely on traditional options such as a gas heater (or powered by another fuel) or even a wood-burning stove, popular in Northern Europe. Reliable, safe and efficient models are on the market, some have even a tilting prevention system. Only drawback is the installation of a chimney on deck.

Finally, as a last resort, a simple and cheap portable fuel heater. This of course cannot work miracles both due to its very low capacity and as a porthole or a companionway must be kept open to guarantee air exchange and avoid fatal poisoning by carbon monoxide.  

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