November 5, 2015

Living on a boat in cold weather... [Updated May-2019]

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so once in a while we will repost on our blog for reference.

The following may be one of those cases. To accommodate our non-boating blog readers, sometimes we add some {additional information and links} to the original forum post, below. 

–––– Updated 8-May-2019 [by Bill] ––––
[Added resources; updated some links]

Related Posts and Resources:

Original Forum Post [18-Oct-2015]

Re: Winterizing for liveaboards

Originally Posted by JMK View Post
This will be our first winter living aboard on the East coast (Chesapeake Bay). The temps will be a lot colder than we are used to. I think we've got the heating aspect covered with a new diesel heater, but I was wondering what else we need to do to winterize the boat for the winter.

Hi J.M.,

I have years of experience wintering over in higher latitudes [e.g., 56-61°N with winter temps ranging from -20°F to hovering around freezing- sometimes freezing in place] in various sailboats with a variety of heating systems.

Besides heat, the next most important thing [in the living space] is moisture control. If you don't you will culture mold in hidden areas and have cold water dripping on you at the most inconvenient times... Not to mention damage to woodwork, etc.

As tempting as it might be to close off the ventilation when it is cold and blowing; don't. Use fans to keep air circulating, and a dehumidifier [we like this small, quiet, energy efficient one...] if you have shore power and you are still getting condensation on cool surfaces.

Insulation helps, but only if it is adequate and sealed so moist air cannot get between it and the cool surface it is insulating... [Adequate defined as thick enough to keep the heated side of the insulation above the dew point in the cabin. 1" foam board [or 2- 1/2" foam board for more flexibility fitting the hull...] or closed cell foam used for HVAC ducts are both adequate here. Those with radiant foil surface on the heated side are a plus. I often use two 1/2" foam boards, installing the first foil side out against the hull (for future insulation in the tropics) and the second on top of the first foil side in. This provides greater flexibility for fitting tight curves.]

Cooking and showers are the two leading contributors to excess moisture on my boat. Vent that steam as it happens and you will be in fairly good shape. I use a [modern] pressure cooker and/or a thermal cooker [like a non-electric crock pot...] more in winter to reduce moisture from cooking and use a good AirPot to keep hot water immediately available for beverages and the like. [Remember a propane stove also releases moisture into your boat as a by-product of combustion... and doesn't work well once the temps drop below about 15°F [lack of vapor pressure in the propane tank- assuming the tank(s) is/are stored outside the heated space...] For this reason, one of the portable electric induction cook tops might be a worthwhile winter enhancement- again assuming you have shore power and your cooking pans and pots work on induction cookers...]

Quickly remove snow on the deck so you don't become top heavy or get an ice build-up. Beware freezing spray conditions if you venture out. Frost/ice can quickly build up on the rigging, and heavy ice high on the mast and rigging is undesirable and dangerous [and makes for unwelcome projectiles when it releases...]

Keep your fresh water and fuel topped-up especially if you have to carry/sled portable jugs to the boat. [Some marinas will keep some fresh water on one or two docks with hose bibs running full time at the end of those docks to prevent freezing the pipes... Our fuel docks are typically open year-round...]

Double-up and chafe protect your dock lines now [bow, stern, and spring]- using different attachment points where possible- so you don't have to go outside to rig a new line or adjust existing lines during the height of a blow... [My version of a dock sleeping pill... This technique requires thick skin to ignore possible derision from a sub-set of fellow boaters...]

I like to set up my dock lines with double rolling hitches at the dock side so I can quickly and easily adjust them when necessary. Douse them with a bucket of saltwater if they are frozen... I find this much easier than trying to uncleat and recleat a frozen line or other type of knot/hitch...

At 61°N we can always count on one or two 70+ knot sustained blows each winter... and we already had 90 knots pay us a brief visit at 56°N two weeks ago {Early October...} when the remnants of Hurricane Oso passed by SE Alaska.

And... I always remind myself to be extra careful walking on the deck and docks. It is very likely that no one will be around to hear me fall into the water... and my ability to self-rescue in cold water [e.g., <48°F] expires around the 2 minute mark... [From personal experience established during cold water survival training...]

I can elaborate more on specifics if there is an interest [and have to various degrees in past posts on this topic.]

OK. Enough with the warnings about things you undoubtedly already know about or anticipated.... Go enjoy your adventure and please share what you learn.


SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

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