How to Install a Portable Heater in Your Boat

What You'll Need
Power jigsaw
Power drill
Vent pipe for diesel heater
Grounded and snugly fastened outlets for electric heater

A portable heater for your boat can extend your sailing season into the late fall and winter months. Follow these instructions and note particularly the listed precautions to take when using each type of heater on a boat.

Step 1: Choose the Type of Heater You Want to Use

The easiest type of heater to use is a small propane heater. It heats the main bridge or the rear deck effectively. You can use a portable electric heater anywhere on a boat. You can also use a diesel heater with a fixed chimney vent in the main cabin, the main bridge or on the rear deck.

Step 2: Install the Propane Heater

Set a propane heater on the deck of the boat, away from any objects that will melt such as dock bumpers and life jackets. Fuel it and run it on the lowest setting that provides comfortable heat. Supervise access to the heater at all times. Turn it off if you leave the boat even for a few minutes.

PRECAUTIONS: Do not use a propane heater in an enclosed space such as a below-deck cabin. Do not leave a propane heater unattended near children or pets.

Step 3: Install a Portable Electric Heater

You can install an electric heater in the main bridge, on the rear deck or in a below-deck main cabin. Ensure the outlets are securely fastened and that the plugs to access shore electricity from the dock outlets fit firmly into the sockets and are cool to the touch.

PRECAUTIONS: Buy an electric heater that is "marine rated" with heavy-duty wiring, ground pins on the plugs, and a safety rating for boat use. It also needs a tipping switch to shut it off if it tips over. Do not run the electric heater when you are off the boat, or while you are sleeping. Never connect an electric heater by an extension cord to its power supply. Do not plug in any other high-drawing electrical appliances into the same power source as the electric heater.

Step 4: Install a Diesel Fuel Heater with a Chimney Vent

To install a diesel heater, choose a safe location for the chimney vent. It must go up above the highest deck and vent over the side of the boat, away from any masts, booms or sails. Obtain a suitable length of vent pipe, with an angled end hood to keep water out of the pipe. Attach the vent pipe to the heater, fuel with diesel and turn it on.

PRECAUTIONS: Set the diesel fuel heater in an open space where it will not tip over. Do not run the diesel fuel heater when no one is aboard the boat.

The type of heater you choose will depend on how much you plan to use your boat in cold weather, and whether you leave it in the water year-round. Install and use your heater with caution for safe sailing and storage of your boat.