Nine Ways To Keep Your Sailboat Warm During Winter Aboard

Nine tips for living aboard your boat during the winter.
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The wind is HOWLING outside. It currently feels like 6 degrees, and it is only set to get colder tonight. Predictions are coming in at -20 to -30 degrees overnight. This will easily be the coldest temperatures we’ve had to endure this winter, and even lower than last year’s notoriously long and frigid winter.

Just like when I tell people we have not only one, but two showers aboard, they are equally as surprised when I tell them we have heat. I don’t know why they think I’d be OK without heat, or even be able to survive, but they do. When I tell them we have “central heat” (reverse cycle that thankfully still is running due to warm water temperatures) they are even more amazed. The truth is that living aboard during the winter hasn’t been terrible. With a few products, living aboard during the winter can even be quite enjoyable.

Hypervent: We’ve used Hypervent on both Chance and on Chancelot. I first installed it to successfully battle humidity and the mold associated with it. With our first winter aboard I am finding even more use for it in battling condensation. Condensation is something you really just have to accept, but with a layer of Hypervent along the hull between mattresses, cushions and in cubbies, we’re able to sleep easy and keep using our built in storage. We do still get moisture between the cushions and the wood, but the moisture stays off of the fabric and cushions banishing any mold growing on your expensive fabric and cushions.

Window Insulation: The thing that I have been most impressed with this winter has been our window insulation. This is the standard stuff you can get for your home and can pick up at any Wal-mart, Home Depot or Amazon. We installed this on our hatches. The hatches on our Vagabond 42 are inset about 4 inches from the ceiling so we have a layer of air trapped between the insulation and the hatch. Before we put it up, each of hatches would drip condensation but once we put it up the condensation has been non existent. It is amazing.

Rugs: The floors on the boat can get cold. To help trap the cold in the bilge we’ve covered our boat in rugs. All mismatched and folded to fit the weird floor spaces, nearly every inch is covered. They help keep the warm air in the main spaces and not leaking into the unlivable ones (i.e. in the bilge).

Slippers: My slippers have gotten more use this winter than they have ever gotten before. Heat rises, so the coldest part of the boat is lowest to the ground. I slip mine on as I get out of bed and only take them off when I put on my shoes to head out the door.

Heaters: We have three different heaters aboard – our reverse cycle system, electric ceramic heaters and a diesel heater. With water temps still in the 40’s our reverse cycle system is still kicking. The system dumps air into our main salon and into the aft cabin. To supplement the reverse cycle system we use two ceramic heaters. Before we started using our electric heaters we added another shore power connection and reran all our wire to minimize any risk of our wires catching fire due to the load of the heaters. We picked up these ceramic heaters and have been quite happy with them. We generally run them on low and they silently pump out enough air to supplement the reverse cycle system. These particular models will shut off if they fall over, but I like that this design allows me to secure the feet to floor/shelf/etc if needed for extra security. These guys are also pretty small which is a nice feature on a boat. The only downside is that if the power goes out, these will not automatically turn back on. The other type of heater we have is a gravity fed diesel heater that we picked up second hand at Bacon’s while we were down there for the Boat Show. We haven’t installed it yet, because it seems we’re in the mind set of “why be prepared when you can wait until it’s too late.” At this point, we’ll likely not install it until next winter (these are supposed to be more cost efficient than electric heaters). Fingers are crossed this cold snap was the last of the frigid weather and we’re only set to get warmer from here on out.

Blankets keep your sailboat cozy during the cold winter months.
Dewey cuddling up with one of the many blankets aboard

Blankets, lots of them: Jason has always poked fun at me for all the blankets I keep aboard, but I think he’s finally excited for my obsession. We probably have 10 – 15 different blankets aboard, including the ones we use on our bed and I can say that we have used every last one at some point. They are great for staying toasty on late Fall sails with friends and for bundling up with the dogs as we hibernate inside watching movies all weekend long during blizzards.

Flannel Sheets: I sleep very hot, but my side of the bed is right next to the hull. Cotton sheets have a way of absorbing every last degree of icy-ness so that when I climb into bed at night I need to be fully covered in socks, pants and a parka until they warm up. We switched to flannel sheets this season and it has made all the difference. Every night I look forward to climbing into my warm and cozy bed.

Squeegee: This is another find from my favorite store, TJ Maxx. We use this small squeegee to clean up the water after a shower (during the warmer months), but it also works really well to remove the condensation on the ports to keep them from dripping all over the boat.

Bubble Wrap: I read about this in one of the many sailing Facebook groups I am a part of. I put a layer of the larger bubble wrap along the hull of certain cubbies and on our inset ports in the aft cabin to help insulate the boat a bit better. Seems to be working well, and keeping any moisture from condensation off whatever is stored inside the cubbies.

With this being our first winter aboard we still have a LOT to learn. What other things do you use to keep warm?

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    • What kind of oil do you use? We have 2 oil lamps aboard but they smoke pretty bad so we haven’t used them much.

  1. omg. That is cold! We’re too cold here in Savannah – so I’m quite impressed that you guys are doing so well on the boat way up there! Thanks for sharing the tips – I may start investigating some anti-condensation things. We’re able to stay warm here, but the condensation on the port lights is, of course, almost always directly over some sort of electronics…

    And I hadn’t really thought about the rugs being insulating, but you are absolutely right! I have them on the larger areas of flooring, and they certainly do keep it warmer.

  2. Another small trick. We each have a hot water bottle that we slip into our respective sides of the bunk 10 minutes before turning in. Makes for a toasty warm bed and we each curl up with our water bottles until we drift off. Julie holds hers on her belly while I like mine on my feet. Wonderful, totally safe and really cheap..

    • Thats a great idea! I actually bought a water bag that can hold iced or hot water but haven’t gotten around to using it yet.

  3. Away from the dock and short on power, a six inch ceramic flower pot turned upside down on a stove burner. Instant Ceramic heater.