Winter Boating – Cabin Heating Systems – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Winter Boating – Cabin Heating Systems

Updated 10/28/2021

Looking to extend your recreational boating season or make enhancements to your live aboard? There may be nothing more important than finding a reliable heating system for your cabin. Even in warmer climates, a winter night can become quite chilly out on the water or at the dock. Check out these heating options — both permanent and portable — to make your life more comfortable.

Hydronic Heating System

One of the most efficient ways to heat your boat cabin is through a hydronic heating system — where cool water is fed through pipes, heated and then transferred to a radiator. The water is then recirculated to create a highly effective, constant source of heat to specific locations. Output on models can range from 16,000 to 40,000 BTU, with an added advantage of being easy to install and small on space. Price ranges from $200 – $400.


Quite possibly the most inconspicuous option, an electric heater can be installed as a wall mount — having the more traditional look of a forced air vent. While there is a space saving advantage, the typical output averages only around 5,000 BTU and relies on the onboard battery source. The price point can be a bit higher, as well — ranging from $500 – $700.


If you have room to spare, a floor mounted diesel heater may be a good option — with an advantage of not having to pull from your battery. The output typically ranges from 8,000 – 17,000 BTU and uses an average of 1.5 gallons of fuel per 24 hours. The heater can easily be disconnected and stored over the warmer months when not in use. That being said, it typically falls on the higher end of the price range, averaging $1,000.


Similar to a diesel heater, a propane heater provides a larger, yet portable option. With many models providing internal combustion options, separate from cabin quarters. This eliminates any unwanted exhaust fumes, while still pulling fresh air from outside of the cabin. Output can range from 3,000 to 5,000 BTU — with and average price point of $600.


For those short daytime outings on smaller boats, you may want to consider a plethora of portable heater options. With affordable price points between $60 – $100, a portable heater can be enough to keep you and your guests comfortable for a few hours. Small in size, the typical portable heater ranges from 400 – 1500 Watts and comes with an AC adapter. One thing to keep in mind is that these heaters pull a significant amount more from you battery than a fuel or hydronic system.

For a full range of brands and online ordering options, check out Fisheries Supply

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